Monthly Archives: June 2011
Article By James O’Hara
When asked at the beginning of the season about how he felt being the everyday second baseman for the Washington Nationals, Danny Espinosa’s answer was a bit surprising: he expected to be in the majors since day one. “I’ve always tried to push myself beyond what I am. Maybe those goals are beyond my reach. I’m still going to set them that way” Espinosa said.
Perhaps this is why, as the calendar turns to July, the 24-year old rookie has exceeded all expectations for him coming into the season and has turned into one of the bona-fide stars on what may be the best team in the Nationals’ short history. Espinosa has become an excellent two-way player and should easily find himself not only playing in the All Star Game in Arizona this summer, but also as the leading contender for the N.L. Rookie of the Year award.
If the All Star Game selections were fair, and unfortunately we all know that they are not, Danny would easily slide into a reserve role for the N.L. team this year. With usual stalwarts Dan Uggla and Chase Utley dealing with a massive slump and early season injury problems, respectively, the competition at second is nominal to say the least and Espinosa is taking full advantage. He is incredibly efficient with his bat with a wOBA (Weighted Batting Average) of .350 and a wRAA (Weighted Runs Above Average) of 8.8, which both rank second in terms of NL second baseman, demonstrates that when he hits the ball you are getting your money’s worth. By more standard metrics, his 15 home runs and 48 RBI’s are first and second for National League second baseman respectively.
Despite his magic with the bat, he may be an even better fielder as he ranks in the top two second baseman in the National League in many defensive statistics. Especially brilliant are his RZR (Revised Zone Rating) and DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) numbers, .833 and 0, which are first and second for National League second baseman. Danny is clearly excelling in every facet of the game right now and is arguably one of the best second baseman in the National League this season which should earn him the All Star nod.
Yet as strong as his case is to be in the All Star Game, that is nothing compared to how he should be running away and hiding with the NL Rookie of the Year award right now. His 15 home runs, 48 RBI’s, UZR(Ultimate Zone Rating) of 4.2, and WAR(Wins Above Replacement) of 3.0 lead all rookies across both leagues. In addition his wOBA of .350, wRAA of 8.8, OPS of .791, and WPA (Win Probability Added) of 1.45 are all good enough for second place among all rookies in the Major League.
But what might be even more important than the numbers is that the kid just knows how to play ball, showing experience and attitude years beyond his age. “[Espinosa] plays hard-nosed baseball. He plays the game the right way,” teammate Jayson Werth said. “He comes to play every day. He’s here early. He works hard. He does all the right things, says all the right things. He’s intense. He learns quick. He gives it his all up there. There’s not a whole lot that you don’t like about him.”
Despite how impossible it seems that one of our beloved Nats not named Ryan Zimmerman is this good, Danny is most definitely the real deal and should be racking up the accolades this year with relative ease.
Only one thing may stand between Danny and the recognition he deserves, his subpar batting average of .239. Yet as the other statistics above prove this stat does not paint a very accurate picture of Espinosa’s hitting prowess, but it might be something that the powers that be get hung up on. But even if Espinosa does not get the respect he so clearly deserves he has already cemented a small place in baseball history, with his 15th home run on Monday he now has the all-time mark for home runs by a rookie second baseman before the All Star break.
Today’s Starting Rotation is brought to you by James O’Hara.
Yesterday’s Big Story – 12th seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a relative unknown from France, upset Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 5 sets 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. It was an incredible upset considering that Federer had come into the match 178-0 when leading after two sets, as he was before Tsonga rallied back to win the match. Tsonga will advance to the semifinals where he will meet arguably an even tougher opponent in 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic.
Yesterday’s Star- Jordan Zimmermann, pitcher, Washington Nationals: Zimmermann pitched a sterling eight innings giving up only one unearned run for his 11th straight quality start but still managed to earn the loss. During this streak he has lowered his ERA from 4.29 to 2.63 ranking him 5th among National League starters. His full line for the night was: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, on 93 total pitches.
Stat of the Day- This entry is inspired by the Mets’ offensive downpour in Detroit, where they scored 16 runs without a single home run to blowout the Tigers for the second straight game by a score of 16-9. There have been 20 major league games since 1990 in which a team has scored 16 runs without a HR. Most recently: 8/30/10 HOU vs. St. Louis.
Yesterday in Washington – Despite the aforementioned gem of a game pitched by Jordan Zimmermann the Nationals were on the wrong end of a sweep, losing to the Angels 1-0. The loss dropped them back under .500 with a mark of 40-41. The Nats now head home to D.C. to begin an eleven game homestand, where they boast a winning percentage of .629.
Today In Washington – Absolutely nothing as the Nationals have an off day along with every other sport.
The Nationals’ 8-game winning streak got me thinking: Where does it stack up with the top moments in D.C. sports over the last couple of years? While this streak didn’t make the cut, I still think that you’ll enjoy reliving these five moments from the last five years that made us cheer in Washington. If you think I’ve left anything out, comment on the post and let me know! Tomorrow, I’ll post the 5 worst moments in DC in the last 5 years.
5. Gilbert Arenas drops 60 points on the Los Angeles Lakers. My biggest regret as a Wizards fan was deciding to go to sleep before this game was over. Since it was on the West coast, it ended quite late – and being in 2006, this was when I still had a bedtime. The game started innocently enough before Gil went into overdrive. He unloaded shot after shot (most of which would have gotten a normal player cut for poor shot selection) and hit ridiculous pull-ups, three-pointers, and layups. He scored 16 points in overtime setting a new NBA record and helping the Wizards overcome Kobe Bryant’s 45 points in a 147-141 victory.
4. The Capitals overcome a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the New York Rangers. One year after their coming out party, the Capitals were out to erase memories of the previous season’s 7-game loss to the pesky Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately for the Caps, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was locked in and held them to 5 goals in 3 Rangers wins. But the Caps discovered Lundqvist’s weakness on his glove side and exposed it for the rest of the series. In Game 7, former MVP Sergei Federov scored the winning goal with just under five minutes left in the game to send the Verizon Center into a frenzy.
3. The Capitals win 14 games in a row. It began with a 5-4 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on January 13, 2010 and ended with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens (who would do other things to the Caps in the playoffs. Stay tuned for the “Worst Moments” post tomorrow) on February 10th. During the streak, the Caps averaged a stunning 4.86 goals per game and allowed just 2.07 goals against. They were four games shy of breaking the 1992-1993 Pittsburgh Penguins’ record of 17 wins in a row. The Caps finished the season with 121 points, finishing first in the league and winning the Southeast Division by a staggering 38 points.
2. Stephen Strasburg strikes out 14 batters in his major league debut. The Nationals had only one defining moment since moving to D.C. from Montreal: a 10-game winning streak in their debut season of 2005. The team struggled going forward, but those struggles resulted in the drafting of once-in-a-generation pitcher Stephen Strasburg. After blowing through the minor leagues, Strasburg took the mound on June 8, 2010 in front of a sellout crowd at Nationals Park. Seven innings and a team-record 14 strikeouts later, Strasburg emerged from the dugout for one of the most memorable curtain calls in D.C. sports history. The dominant performance will undoubtedly live on in Washington lore not only for its sheer brilliance, but also because the 21-year old kid with the rocket arm was able to exceed the enormous expectations placed on him.
1. The Redskins close out 2007 with an emotional 27-6 win over the Cowboys. If you think that a one, single Redskins win could not possibly make No. 1 on this list, I’m sure you have a good reason why. But there were several reasons why I think this moment deserves to be called the best moment in D.C. in the past five years. First of all, it capped an unbelievable 4-game winning streak led by veteran QB Todd Collins and guaranteed the Redskins a trip to Seattle for a wild card playoff game. Second, it was arguably one of the most dominant performances in the storied Redskins-Cowboys rivalry. The Redskins held Dallas to 147 total yards including a franchise record one rushing yard. Marion Barber III, who needed just 25 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, was held to -6 yards on six carries.
But this victory is No. 1 on my list for reasons greater than anything could happen on the field. Namely, it was a game that was dedicated by the Redskins to their fallen teammate, Sean Taylor, killed in his Miami condo in an attempted burglary earlier in the season. When Redskins RB Clinton Portis scored a touchdown in the first quarter, he lifted his jersey to reveal a t-shirt commemorating #21, his best friend and fellow teammates at the University of Miami.
But then-Redskins LT Chris Samuels made a declaration that touched the hearts and minds of Redskins fans all over the country: “I was on the sideline and the guys were talking about the score and then it hit me – we won by 21. I came into the locker room…and broke down in tears.”
Yesterday’s Big Story – South Carolina defeated Florida in Game 2 of the College World Series to win their second consecutive national title. The 5-2 victory meant that the Gamecocks were the first team in college baseball history to win every game on their run to the championship.
Yesterday’s Star – Cliff Lee, Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies: Against the best hitting team in the league, Lee continued a memorable run. He allowed two hits in a complete game shutout, his third shutout in a row. In June, he has been absolutely unhittable: 5-0, with a 0.21 ERA.
Yesterday’s Fail – Rick Porcello, Pitcher, Detroit Tigers: The normally solid Porcello only lasted 3.2 innings against the Mets, allowing seven runs on 11 hits. Honorable mention goes to Daniel Schlereth, who came on in relief for Porcello and gave up six runs on four hits in 1.1 innings. The Tigers, predictably, got hammered by New York 14-3.
Yesterday in Washington – The Nationals kept it close but the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim erupted in the eighth inning en route to an 11-5 shellacking of Washington.
Today in Washington – The Nats face the Angels in the final game of their interleague series. Jordan Zimmermann (5-6, 2.85 ERA) takes on Angels ace Dan Haren.
An ESPN-made system of values and percentages is hardly a way to put a number to the success of a professional sports franchise, but there is little doubt that the logic involved in making such a system creates quite a realistic picture. In the magazine’s annual study of the 122 MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL teams, ESPN ranks each team based on how well they treat and perform for their respective fan bases.
In other words, this very interesting study tells us which teams are the best at keeping their fans happy, and which teams are the worst.
If you were curious about the rankings of the four major teams in D.C., the order should really come as no surprise. The Capitals are 27th (although they were 11th last year), the Nationals are 78th, the Wizards are 110th, and our beloved Washington Redskins are an unsurprising 121st out of 122 teams. Only the Cincinnati Bengals fans are in greater misery than the fan base of the Redskins.
Additionally, the Baltimore Ravens were 21st and the Baltimore Orioles were 67th (woooo Baltimore.)
Breaking down each ranking, I think it’s safe to say that the Capitals are ranked where they should be. The are fun to watch and are consistently good year after year. Ted Leonsis is one of the best owners in sports (the Magazine named him the 6th-best owner in all of sports) and if not for the lack of playoff success in the last few years, the Caps could easily be a top-10 franchise.
The Nationals are also ranked pretty well too. At 78th, it shows that they are neither a horrid team nor a good one – but so far, they’ve been leaning towards the former. The main selling point for the Nats in their ranking was their ranking of 44th for affordability. For those of you who think their recent hot streak merits greater numerical value in the rankings, think about whether or not the Nats have really grabbed your attention for a long period of time. Honestly, there’s nothing particularly special, is there?
The Wizards are ranked 110th, meaning there are only 12 other teams in worse condition. This is due in large part to their ranking 117th in both fan relations and player performance. The Wizards have only one winning season in the last five years and in the last three seasons have won 19, 26, and 23 games respectively. Although John Wall provides excitement, the latest draft class looks to be a possible succes, and Ted Leonsis has taken over as owner, the Wizards are three or four years away from really challenging as a contender.
And then, there was one. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Washington Redskins are the 2nd-worst franchise in North America. They’re worse than the Los Angeles Clippers. Worse than the Atlanta Thrashers, who just got relocated to Winnipeg. Worse than the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have posted a losing season in each of the last 18 seasons. Worse than the Chicago Cubs who may be the most futile team in the history of the universe.
When I heard the ESPN had ranked the Redskins so low, I was embarrassed for several reasons. One, ESPN’s rankings are pretty legit. Success is measured by wins and fan loyalty and by that formula these rankings are pretty spot-on. Two, how much worse can things get for the Skins? As if we already weren’t aware of how annoyingly bad this franchise is, now the entire country can see the futility of the burgundy and gold boiled down to three digits: 121. That’s 121 out of 122, as in the 2nd-worst franchise on the continent. As in we pay money out of our minds to have the jersey of Donovan McNabb, we pay hundreds of dollars for crappy tickets, and pay exorbitant amounts of money in order to park five miles away from a stadium that’s in MARYLAND. Thank you, ESPN The Magazine, for finally quantifying how bad the Redskins are.
Stay strong, D.C. United. Although you play America’s fifth-favorite (and not qualifiable for the rankings) sport, you are probably this city’s only hope for glory.
If you want to see ESPN’s rankings, click here.
After missing my post the other day, I’m coming back with The Starting Rotation. I’ll be posting it every day from here on out.
Yesterday’s Big Story – South Carolina defeated Florida in Game 1 of the College World Series 2-1 in 11 innings. I know it’s college baseball, but nothing much notable happened yesterday.
Yesterday’s Star – Rafael Nadal, Tennis: Nadal defeated 24th seeded Juan Martin del Potro in four sets despite sustaining a foot injury that was so painful that Nadal initially thought it might be broken.
Yesterday’s Fail – Nick Blackburn, Pitcher, Minnesota Twins: Blackburn allowed 12 hits and 8 runs in 4.1 innings in a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yesterday in Washington – Danny Espinosa hit a game-tying home run in the top of the 9th inning but the Nats lost 4-3 in 10 innings to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to fall to 40-39.
Today in Washington – The Nats take on the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim again at 10:05 EST. Jason Marquis (7-3, 3.53 ERA) faces hot pitcher Joel Pinero. Lately in Washington, all that happens is baseball. Everything is pretty much nil this time of the year.
Thanks to a spectacular run of 13 wins in 15 games, the Washington Nationals have seemingly cemented themselves in third place in the grueling National League East. But people still have doubts about whether or not this team is legitimately good. While they are 40-38, it took a great month of baseball for them to even get to .500.
These doubts are understandable, but a couple of things happened in the last few games that make me believe that this team is just as good as we think it is.
1. The Nationals went 7-2 in interleague play. This is a massive achievement for a team that won 5 interleague games all of last season (5-13). They were even able to take two out of three against the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City. Not only is it amazing that they won an interleague series on the road, its even more amazing considering that the White Sox had won all 17 of its previous interleague series.
2. Despite a putrid offense, they still found ways to win. In six games against the White Sox and the Seattle Mariners, the Nationals scored more than two runs twice. In those two games, a 6-5 win over Seattle and a 9-5 win against Chicago in 14 innings, the Nationals scored a grand total of ONE RUN prior to the seventh inning. This means that the Nats went multiple innings without scoring a run all of their last six games. Their record? 5-1. While this can be attributed to great pitching, it can also be pointed out that the Nats got hits when they needed them and capitalized when they had the chance. This shows that they have the ability to win games even when they don’t score runs.
3. The Nationals are an incredible 17-7 in the month of June. This is the most significant statistic to me, because it shows that the Nats haven’t been a one-hit wonder – they’ve been consistently performing at a very high level. And give Ryan Zimmerman his due: ever since the Nats’ star third baseman returned, they are 12-6 and are averaging nearly a full run more per game on offense. That is absolutely unbelievable.
So those are three really good reasons why I think that Nationals are a legitimate threat and not some fluke. And if you need more persuasion, consider this: the Nats have a better winning percentage than such teams as the Cincinnati Reds, the Colorado Rockies, the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. They also have one fewer win than the St. Louis Cardinals and last season’s A.L. champion Texas Rangers.
If those numbers don’t indicate staying power, I don’t know what does.
Welcome to the first edition of the Starting Rotation. This post will be a daily occurrence, recapping the big stories of the day before and looking forward to the day ahead. James O’Hara gets credit for the name of this post.
Yesterday’s Big Story – The U.S.A. faced Mexico and in the Gold Cup final to determine the best team in North America. Despite leading 2-0 in the first half, the U.S. gave up four unanswered goals en route to a stunning 4-2 loss. And yes, I won $20 because I said at the beginning of the tournament that the U.S. wouldn’t win. Not a traitor, just realistic.
Yesterday’s Star – Justin Verlander, Pitcher, Detroit Tigers: Verlander pitched eight innings of four-hit ball for his sixth straight victory. In June, he’s 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA. He has a 2.38 ERA and a 10-3 record on the season.
Yesterday’s Fail – Boston Red Sox: Despite leading the majors in nearly every offensive category, the Red Sox slipped again yesterday, falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-4. It was their fourth straight loss and to add insult to injury, the loss knocked them out of first place in the A.L. East.
Yesterday in Washington – The Nationals were cooled off considerably by an array of White Sox pitchers as Chicago cruised to a 3-0 victory. The Nats are 39-38 on the year. Also, Davey Johnson reportedly will be hired as the new Nats manager for the rest of this season and, pending league approval, all of next season.
Today in Washington – The Nats play the White Sox in the rubber match of the three game series at 2:10 EST. Livan Hernandez takes the mound for the Nats against Chicago’s young star Philip Humber. The Nats have a tall task against Humber who is 7-3 with a 2.90 ERA.
While the lockout clouds the future of the NFL in 2011, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be a season. So, for my first post on my favorite team, I give you ten reasons (and believe me, there are a multitude of others) why they won’t post a winning record next season, lockout or not.
1. The starting quarterback is presumably going to be either Rex Grossman or John Beck. We know about Rex Grossman. We don’t know about John Beck, which is why I’ll write something about him in the near future. Put it this way: He only played in 2007 and had a 62.0 passer rating.
2. The offensive line is horrible. LT Trent Williams is the only viable option as a member of an offensive line that includes Kory Lichtensteiger as a starter. One of the worst units in all of football.
3. Going along with the “Worst Unit In Football” moniker, the Redskins may have just that in their wide receiver corps. With the likely departure of No. 1 receiver Santana Moss on the horizon, the team turns to…Anthony Armstrong? Armstrong definitely had his moments last year, but that was mostly because defenses focused on Moss and TE Chris Cooley. The backups include Roydell Williams and fan favorite speedster Brandon Banks. While third-round draft pick Leanord Hankerson will improve the unit, that’s not exactly what I’d call depth.
4. Ryan Torain has the potential to be a great downhill runner and a possible 1,000-yard guy, but he’s too inconsistent. Keiland Williams is a capable backup but he only had one really decent game last year and that was during the 59-28 beauty turned in by the burgundy and gold. Running back is designated as a weakness because as of now, there’s really no threat in the backfield. Fourth-round pick Roy Helu out of Nebraska could be a star if he gets bigger and gets more consistent.
5. The lack of legitimate practice time in the offseason will almost certainly hamper a team that has so much uncertainty and so many holes to fill. How can the players become acclimated without any OTA’s or minicamp?
6. Kareem Moore and Reed Doughty still patrol the defensive backfield in Washington.
7. Daniel Snyder still owns the team. And he still rips seats out of the upper part of the stadium and neglects to tell the season ticket holders who sat there that he even did it.
8. The defense can’t stop the run for its life. It ranked 26th in the NFL last season allowing 127.6 yards per game.
9. The defense can’t stop the pass for its life. It ranked 31st in the NFL allowing 261.7 yards per game.
10. There won’t be a season. (courtesy of my brother, Nate Webber who requests to be known as DeShawn Bloodsworth. You asked for it Nate)
Of course, the Redskins inability to win will ultimately be decided by more factors than just the 10 listed here. But this crash course in the futility of this franchise puts into perspective just how far away this team is from being competitive. In yours truly’s honest opinion, the team is at least two or three years away from a winning record.