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Not Looking Too Good for the Daily Diarist
 
Making Me Look Bad! 
April 22, 2006 - Well, well, well. Mr. Big Talk appears to have missed the mark, at least here in the early going. When I say Mr. Big Talk, I mean me. And when I say "the mark," I mean my assessment of the Alfonso Soriano Brad Wilkerson trade.

As I am sure you are all aware by now, Alfonso Soriano hit three homeruns on Friday night to bring his season total up to six. He currently has six dingers and four stolen bases. He is hitting .333, with an OPS over 1.000! He has struck out 13 times to go with four walks, but his OBP is still .377, so not complaining. Plus, after a dismal start, the Nationals have put Soriano at the top of the lineup more regularly, and they have won five out of six.

Soriano's Current Pace -
G Runs Hits HR RBI SB BB K AVG OBP SLG OPS
162 114 229 57 114 38 28 124 0.333 0.377 0.653 1.029


But we need not only look at Soriano's stats to be convinced that the trade was a good one for the Nationals, and that I was a bit off in my analysis. It appears that Brad Wilkerson and Soriano have united in conspiracy to make me look bad, and Wilkerson is certainly doing his part.

As of last night, Wilkerson's OPS, .585, is lower than Soriano's slugging percentage alone. Wilkerson has managed only 13 hits in 68 at-bats for a .191 average, and his four walks have contributed to an on-base percentage of .247. He has only two homers and six RBIs. But the truly alarming part of Wilkerson' game has to be his 29 strikeouts in 17 games. With 29 strikeouts in only 68 at-bats, Wilkerson is coming painfully close to averaging a strikeout every other at-bat!

Wilkerson's Current Pace -
G Runs Hits HR RBI SB BB K AVG OBP SLG OPS
162 105 124 19 57 10 38 276 0.191 0.247 0.338 0.585


That's right, Wilkerson is on pace to have as many RBI as Soriano has homeruns, and to become to strikeouts what Barry Bonds is to walks. I mean, it is not time to call it, but it is not looking good.

For my part, I just don't understand.

The Church-man Always Rings Twice
 
Its good to be back. 
April 16, 2006 - Well, well, well. What a difference two weeks makes. Nearly two weeks to the day after the Nationals announced that Brandon Watson would be their opening day centerfielder, and that Ryan Church would begin the season at Triple A New Orleans, the Nationals reversed course on Thursday by sending Watson back down and recalling Church.

The Nationals, mired by a 2-9 start, won the second game of Church's return on Saturday. Then, today the Nationals beat the Marlins behind a splendid day from the Church man. He hit two homers, drove in four runs and scored thrice.

It would appear that Church is back to stay. However, with Jose Guillen hurt and out indefinitely, and Jose Vidro already nursing a minor ailment (Marlon Anderson played second today), Brandon Watson may find himself back with the big club, and right beside Church, before we get too far into May.

Question Marks Answered in the Negative
April 14, 2006 - My apologies to all of the Diary fans out there, as this week the D.C. Daily Diary hasn't even risen to the level of "semi-daily." For what it is worth, I was in the NYC this week, and just returned.

I would like to mention that if Keith, Scott, or I lived in New York City, we would have to change the "Bonehead Sportswriter of the Month" Award to the "Bonehead Sportswriter of the Day" Award because of a little publication by the name of the New York Post. These guys are seriously terrible. When Derek Jeter hit a three run homer in the eighth inning on Tuesday to beat the Royals (key points - eighth inning, the Royals), the Post treated it as though Jeter had just hit five homeruns in a single game to break Hank Aaron's career home run record and put the Yankees into the playoffs while also gathering his 3,000th hit and saving a child from a burning building. Jeter was on the front cover, the back cover, and no fewer than three pages in the middle. And the feat received the attention of about four Post columnists, all of whom appear to want Derek Jeter to run for God.

But alas, I returned to Alexandria, and find that my local Washington Post commits no such transgressions, less because they are not stark raving mad, and more because they have little to rave about. The Nationals find themselves on a five game losing streak, and its not like the games have even been close.

 
Hopes to pitch in RFK again soon and often. 
For what it is worth, I did manage to catch the Nationals-Mets game on Tuesday on my way out of town. What I had hoped would be a Nationals victory in their home opener on a fantastic day in RFK turned into a one sided debacle as the Nationals did their best to make Mets rookie pitcher Brian Bannister look like Greg Maddux. The Nats managed only a seventh inning Alfonso Soriano homer off of the kid, who allowed only three hits and walked none in seven innings of work. Billy Wagner was stangely wild in the ninth, but pre-season "That's My Dawg" Award favorite Ryan Zimmerman struck out poorly to end a rally after Wagner walked three in the inning. Ramon Ortiz took the loss for the Nats, which makes me think the Nationals were lucky to only have lost by six.

Mid-way through the game, as Alfonso Soriano took a bad angle and let what would turn out to be a Jose Reyes triple roll to the wall, a very discouraged middle-aged guy (I just shook with horror at the realization that someday someone who has only met me in passing will refer to me as the same) two rows in front of me looked back at me and said, "Looks like its gonna be a long season" with a furious look on his face.

Dude, this team has been here for A year, and this guy is acting like they're the Royals, and he's had to put up with them for two decades. But I digress. . .

A couple of things you may not have noticed:

Anyway, the Mets series was a sweep, and it showed why my pre-season prediction for the Nationals was probably the worst I made. The Nats only had three deficiencies - hitting, pitching, and defense. Joey Eischen got shelled in game three, to the tune of five runs in one inning of work. Carlos Beltran may a superstar again after an off-year simply because of being able to snap out of it against the Nats.

In truth, all of the Mets looked like superstars against the Nats, and it doesn't really seem at this moment like there is hope that other teams won't have the same success. A lot of the question marks surrounding the Nationals at the early point of the season are being answered in the negative.

Brushed Backe, and Then Turned Backe
 
 
April 7, 2006 - After getting smacked around by Pedro Martinez and the Mets in the Nationals season opening series during the week, Jose Guillen was once more hit by a pitch on Friday night, this time by Brandon Backe. This one stung a bit more than the ones during the Mets series, however, and Guillen had to leave the game. The Nationals went on to lose 6-1, and Guillen is day-to-day.

In four games, Guillen has now been plunked four times while he only has three hits and no walks. Guillen is on pace to (quick, do the math - 4 times in 4 games) be HBPed 162 times this season, which would obliterate the record of 51 set by Hughie Jennings in 1896.

Speaking of torrid paces, Daniel Cabrera pitched last night for the Baltimore Orioles, and he was fantastically terrible. In an inning and a third, Cabrera allowed 7 earned runs on three hits and seven walks. Cabrera walked six in the opening inning and a seventh in the second before getting yanked. Cabrera threw 60 pitched in his 1 and a third inning, only getting a terrifying 22 of them over strikes.

The Pace

April 6, 2006

Number one sign things aren't going your way - the opposing pitcher walks five batters and plunks another four batters, and you still lose. But that is exactly what happened to the Nats last night.

It was a wild one to be sure, as Pedro Martinez combined a stubborn refusal to not pitch inside with some uncharacteristic wildness, and ended up giving up five runs, four unearned, in six innings to get the win.

Did you ever think you'd see Pedro Martinez give up lots of runs but win anyway because of run support? Used to be the other way around.

A truly Dominican Debacle broke out after Pedro hit Jose Guillen for the second time of the night. Guillen barely got grazed, but took exception nonetheless, pointing his bat at Pedro and walking out towards the mound to talk it over. The first player between Pedro and Jose was Carlos Delgado, and in the end it was Julio Franco of all people, from the other team, that ended up cooling Jose off.

There was a hilarious moment when the Mets bullpen decided the enter the fray. As some of the bullpen guys crossed the infield to get to the pitcher's mound, Nationals pitcher Jon Rauch, a 6'11" 260 pound giant, grabbed one pitcher to keep him out of the melee, and then snagged another one with one hand as he tried to get by. The image of Jon Rauch holding a Mets pitcher in each hand, combined with his incredible height, made him look like a father discipling his young children.

Sign of Trouble - Speaking of a father disciplining young children, Pedro saved what control he did have for Ryan Zimmerman, who K'd four times in an 0-5 night. Zim had looked solid so far, but looked like a kid last night

 
Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy!!! 
In other news, the Mets have released illustrations of their new ballpark that has been in the planning for several years but has just recieved approval. It is apparently an homage to Ebbets Field, and it looks simply exciting. Maybe the Nats could do the same thing here in Washington. Maybe, oh I don't know, an homage to RFK Stadium. Oh, wait, RFK Stadium is still here! A little refurbishing and it would be perfect! Oh well.

March 31, 2006

The Nationals and Orioles played at RFK last night in the last tuneup before the regular season, and I think we got a very indicative of look of what may be to come for the Nats this season. At times, the team looked electric, with Brandon Watson making all the big defensive plays, beating out an infield hit, and stealing a base with ease. Ryan Zimmerman doubled his first two times up, and looked solid at the plate. Alfonso Soriano gave Jose Vidro props coming off the field after Vidro made a slick play at second. Good times.

Then, there were the down points. Jose Guillen overrunning a single and letting it roll to the wall. Zimmerman being eaten up repeatedly by sharply hit balls at third. Soriano looking clueless at the plate. Royce Clayton thrown out at second trying to stretch a single. The pitching staff getting tagged.

Overall, I still maintain that the Nats have potential, not to be confused with upside, and two bona fide Rookie of the Year candidates in Watson and Zimmerman. But the mistakes will kill this team, because they do not actually have upside - they have the potential for youngsters to become stars, and oft-injured guys to be healthy, but this is still a bluecollar team.

In other news, we had a Corey Patterson sighting last night. You know, after digging into him for the last, what, 30 years?, I really had lost sight of how fast he is. On his two groundouts, he was just flying down the line! That said, watching the rookie Brandon Watson bunt, beat out a grounder, and steal bases while putting on a display in center, it is an absolute tragedy that someone never took the hardline with Patterson and said, "LOOK, you will have a LONG AND SUCCESSFUL CAREER because you WILL shorten your swing and you WILL focus on bunting and getting on base so you can steal bases, and you have NOTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT!"

You really get the feeling the Cubs organization spent 6 years going, "Uh, hey, um, Corey - ever think about not swinging quite as hard everytime?"

March 29, 2006

In a rather shocking move, the Nationals have decided that Ryan Church will begin the season in AAA New Orleans and Brandon Watson, complete with 40 career Major League at-bats, will be the opening day starting centerfielder. Apparently, Watson hustled his butt off this spring, while Church generally fizzled.

 
The Starting Centerfielder . . .
for the Zephyrs
 
Church was reportedly shocked, saying he didn't even realize that there was a competition for centerfield, while Watson was apparently told from day one that he would have an opportunity to win the job. Watson will play center and bat leadoff for the Nationals, who finished in last place in the Majors in offense last season (by a lot).

This move has its upside and its downside. Ryan Church was a highlight reel player to be sure, with solid defensive credentials, but Watson has apparently proven to be no slouch in the field either. Watson is more of a traditional, Brett Butler style leadoff guy bunting for hits, slapping singles, stealing bases. He also doesn't take many walks, which is a concern. His spring OBP was only about 50 points higher than his spring average. Last season in New Orleans, he hit .355, but his OBP was .400, which will make it harder for him to break slumps, and harder to contribute when he is having trouble putting the ball through the infield. But Church, to be sure, was not much better in this sense, anyway.

The best thing about this move is that it means that Alfonso Soriano will not be batting leadoff for the Nationals.
 
Done Doing What's Worst for the Team? 
I understood why Soriano batted leadoff for the Yankees in his days there with so many power hitters, and Soriano as the only base-stealing threat, he won the position by default. But on any other team, particularly a poor offensive team, Soriano's power hitting and lack of on-base percentage make him, in my mind, more of a three four or five hitter, even despite his speed. He has registered 90 plus RBI the last four seasons, while faring far worse in the on-base department than you would want a leadoff guy to fare. As a cleanup hitter, Soriano is a bonus because he adds speed to his power, but as a leadoff hitter, Soriano is a detriment because he doesn't get on base.

So the Nationals outfield, for the time being, is comprised of Jose Guillen, Brandon Watson, and Alfonso Soriano, which is at least fast enough to be decent.

Clayton Officially the Starter

In other news, a quick check of the Nationals Depth Chart reveals a huge improvement at shortstop as Royce Clayton is officially the starting shortstop for the Nationals, as Guzman will start the year on the 15-day disabled list. There are not a lot of team in baseball, or in baseball history, for whom Clayton would be a huge improvement, but not a lot of players have performed as poorly as Guzman did last year.

So, the Nationals infield is now Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Royce Clayton, and Ryan Zimmerman, which has the potential to be very good. Nick Johnson, as I explained in my preview, reminds me of Todd Helton when he is healthy. Jose Vidro is an All Star, though a tad on the empty average side, Clayton is a solid defender, and Zimmerman has never been anything but successful, and hit two dingers yesterday.

You know, this team could definitely be worse.

March 23, 2006 - A Quick End to Some Mellow Drama

Soriano played left field last night, and he liked it. This was essentially a staring contest, and in the end the signer of the checks won over the casher of the checks. The cards were simply to heavily stacked in the Nationals favor. This is good, though, because now the Nationals can move on the deal with their more pressing concerns, and Soriano will not have insurmountable pressure to face when trying to prove that he is actually a decent ballplayer.

Humorously, I was relaying this story to my wife, and midway through she asks, "Isn't Frank Robinson like a legend?"

See? Kelly gets it. If Kelly gets it, why doesn't Soriano.

March 22 Soriano Blinks

Opening the door for a possible return to the field with the Nationals, Alfonso Soriano is reportedly telling people that he "didn't know he was in the lineup" when it came time to take the field. Sure. And Lee Harvey Oswald didn't know the rifle was loaded when he shot the President.

In his column on Monday, Tom Boswell noted a couple of things about Sori-owens. First, apparently Soriano has the worst fielding percentage of a second baseman with his amount of experience in the last fifty years! Wow. Secondly, the Nationals demand that Soriano play left field comes on the heels of a benching by the Dominican Republic National Team at the WBC, for whom Soriano refused to play in the talent-short outfield. Third, Soriano went 0-12 in the Classic, one of only two players to go hitless. Fourth, it appears as though if Soriano misses another game for the same reason, then the Nationals will have a pretty compelling case for putting Soriano on the disqualified list for violating his contract. Interestingly, Boswell notes, if this happens, then Soriano's contract is essentially suspended indefinitely, and if he manages to miss the entire season, he will still be under contract with a year remaining, and will not be allowed to pursue free agency in the off season.

I would just like to take a moment to say "Bravo" to the Nationals for taking this bold move against a mal-content player. In previous years, when the players had more power, these types of things were unheard of. For example, we all remember 2000, when Ken Griffey Jr. was holding the Mariners hostage by demanding a trade, and demanding that it be with the Reds, thus limiting what the Reds were willing to give up because they knew they had the bargaining power. You will recall that Griffey threatened the Mariners by making it clear that he had no intention of re-signing with them in the off-season, so that if they did not trade him they would get nothing in return. So, essentially the Mariners had only the option of shipping him to the Reds, who knew they would get him the following year through free agency and were thus willing to give up very little.

At the time, I wished the M's would have done what the Nationals are doing now. The moment Griffey tried to dictate that he be traded to the Reds or else, I would have liked the Mariners to have taken the strong line by benching him indefinitely. Basically, they would have been saying "let's see how high your free agent value goes when you sit the bench all year." But that was a different era. A lot has changed in 6 years.

So, by claiming that he didn't know he was in the lineup, Soriano leaves himself an out, an easy excuse to rejoin the team on Wednesday (in left field) and prevent what could turn into a huge mess.

Lets just hope that, like the Stadium deal, this turns out to be much ado about nothing.

While I hope that all ends well, others understandably feel differently. Of Soriano, Tony "the Yankee" Aubry writes:

"Soriano should be shot. He's a selfish son of a bitch. He didn't play yesterday because he still refuses to play in left. If he still refuses by the end of a week, he'll be on the disqualified list."

We all have our opinions.

The Beginning March 21, 2006

So, I figured I'd do the "D.C. Daily Diary" again this season because, well, why not? I have been putting off the start of the Diary to this point, because I kind of felt guilty for not running the Diary during the off-season, when Major League Baseball, the D.C. City Council, and Mayor Anthony Williams were doing their best to squander the Nationals Stadium deal. I mean, what better events to cover in a diary than that, right?

For the record, when it looked like the deal was dead, I told everyone who would listen that there was no way that a) the District would let the team leave, or b) Major League Baseball wanted to move the team again. So, in that sense, I called it. I just wish I had been saying in the Diary on a day-to-day basis, rather than in a post hoc I told you so. But I digress.

When, then, would be the perfect time to start the Diary for 2006? Opening Day? Well, Kelly and Lily and Eric and Andrew and I will be attending a pre-season battle between the O's and the Nationals the weekend before the season starts, so I would have at least started it then. But I have decided to start it today, Tuesday, March 21, 2006, because something happened last night which could affect the entire season for the Nationals Alfonso Soriano refused to take the field.

It happened in a game last night against the Dodgers in Spring Training. Soriano was in his first action as a National after partaking in the World Baseball Classic. Frank Robinson, never one to back down from confrontation, filled out his lineup card and penciled Soriano in to play leftfield. When the team took the field in the first inning, only eight players ran out of the dugout Soriano was no where to be found. Robinson, not surprised, trotted out to the umpire, announcing that Ryan Church was moving from center to left, and Brandon Watson was coming in to play centerfield. As the game got underway, Soriano could not be spotted in the dugout.

There are a lot of guys to whom this could be happening that would garner more sympathy than Soriano. If the Giants suddenly asked Omar Vizquel to move to centerfield, or if the Padres suddenly asked Mike Piazza to play second base, or Mets suddenly asked Cliff Floyd to play catcher, no baseball fan in the world would take the team's side in the confrontation. My response would be, "What in the world is going on?"

The Soriano situation is different because he is simply not a very good second baseman. With both the Yankees and the Rangers, he has always fared poorly as a defensive second baseman. The Fielding Bible shows this to be so, as do Soriano's Range Factor and fielding percentage.

What I suspect is going on in Soriano's mind, and more importantly his agent's mind, is that Soriano is all too aware of the fact that so much of his value is tied to his position. As a second baseman, Soriano is one of the top three or four players at his position, because his combination of power and speed is so rare for a second baseman. A second baseman who goes 30-30 is a fantastic commodity never mind the fact that his glove is like the fifty-point ring in a skee-ball game (every now and then, if you are lucky, a ball ends up going in it). If Soriano becomes an outfielder, then his value goes down the tube, and he is suddenly just one of many good outfielders in the league.

Which brings us to more important point Alfonso Soriano ain't all that. In a Rotisserie Style fantasy league, I would draft him very high because he takes care of second base, and fills the HR and SB categories. But in the real world of baseball, you gotta do more than that. Soriano strikes out a lot, he hardly ever walks, he doesn't get on base. Soriano is the modern day version of Juan Samuel (I know, I am beating it to death), and as soon as he loses a little bat speed, he will be toast.

So, let's come all the way back to the Nationals. Soriano doesn't want to play left field, and he made it clear last night that this is more than a fleeting protestation. The Nationals are now hoping to take action against Soriano because of his refusal to play (which makes it clear, by the way, that all parties knew what was going to transpire before the game). Soriano will likely stamp his feet and pout until he gets his way. And you would be silly to think the Union won't weigh in on this before it is over.

As a newly minted D.C. area native, and a Nationals fan, I hope to see the Nationals keep their firm line and eventually trade Soriano to some sucker team who will pony up some pitching in return for him. Hell, the Cubs are currently trying to convince themselves that Jerry Hairston is a fit at second base. I am pretty sure Soriano could play second in Chicago with no problem, and they certainly have pitching to spare.

Unfortunately, I think the Nationals are likely stuck with Soriano all year, and for that we will all pay a price.

Hey, while I am thinking about it, what do the following players have in common Chone Figgins, Ryan Freel, Brad Wilkerson, Adam Dunn, Nick Swisher, Nomar Garciaparra, Javy Lopez, Chipper Jones, Darin Erstad, Michael Young.

They have all played wherever they were asked to in recent years without being whiney little children about it. And almost without exception (okay, Erstad), I would rather have any one of them on my team than Soriano.

And, one more thing. I think this whole affair definitely calls for a new BaseballEvolution.com nickname. From now on, I think I'll be referring to Alfonso Soriano as "T.O."

Alfonso Sori-owens just seemed a little cumbersome.

Oh, wait, how about Alfonso "Just Give Me the Damn Ball" Soriano.

Maybe we should take a poll between those three.


Visit the Washington Nationals Team Page.

Read Asher's 2006 Washington Nationals Team Preview.

Read the 2005 D.C. Daily Diary.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.



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