With the Nationals on the Left Coast, it's the night-owl version of the businessman's special. All us guys (and gals) who like to stay up late can watch baseball without getting in trouble with our wives and girlfriends (or husbands and boyfriends). Here's my take on Game 1.
Barry Zito: The Giants took heat for the seven-year, $119 million contract because it was just too much for a guy who probably wouldn't be much more than an league-average, innings-eating #3. They deserved that heat. But it's gotten much, much worse for them. Zito's 4-12 record and 5.62 ERA jump out at you, but if anything he's pitched worse than that, benefiting from a 7.4% HR/fly-ball rate (league average is 11-12%) that is attributable to luck not skill. What's gone wrong? Zito mostly throws a slow fastball, a big looping curve, a change-up, and an occasional slider. In better days, his curve ball was his strikeout pitch, a real snapping bender that made an upper-80s fastball look much faster. His curveball has lost some action and his fastball now sits around 84, but the real killer is that he's lost command totally. He's walking 5.53 per 9 this year; for his career that number is 3.67. He's also not helped by the bad, old defense playing behind him, but he's a long way from that being a credible excuse. He did finish with a respectable stretch of starts before the break, though, really upping his K rate, so we'll have to see whether his stuff has come around or if the blind squirrel just found a few nuts.
Jason Bergmann: Since JimBo gave him the old Ryan Church treatment, banishing him to AAA after three rough starts in April, Bergy has posted a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts and 70.1 innings with an excellent 3:1 K:BB ratio. He still has a tendency to pitch either like Cy Young or Young Il-Jung, but it's been good much more often than not. His out pitches are his curveball and slider, and his 90 mph fastball is a good pitch too. He throws a change just to show it. He's an extreme flyball pitcher (52% this season) and has a huge lefty-righty split--giving up a .321 BA to lefties versus a .219 BA for righties. AT&T is a neutral park, although it's just 309 feet down the right field line, which could cause him problems given his problems with lefties. But no team in baseball has hit fewer homers than the Gentle Giants, and their best lefties are Randy Winn, John Bowker, and Fred Lewis. This is as favorable a matchup as Bergy's going to see all year.
What I'll Be Looking For
The Nationals have had a tendency to bail out bad pitchers by swinging at junk. Zito's command problems will put him behind in a lot of counts, and if the Nationals are patient, they'll get a lot of walks and see a lot of cookies in hitters' counts. With this team, that's a big if, but they did it against Atlanta on Sunday (except Lo Duca). This game could be an opportunity to reinforce some good habits. Or, if they revert to the form they've had, this could be one of those games where we make a bad pitcher look good and have listen to Manny tell us how we have to give the putrid Zito credit.
Bergy absolutely needs the best defensive outfield available behind him. That means Langerhans, Harris, and Kearns. Don't mess with success, Manny. Play Lo Duca at first if you (or JimBo) insist, but I want him nowhere near left field.
If Lo Duca's ever going to get hot and either create some trade value or make a run at type B free agency (which would yield us a compensatory draft pick), he needs to put up big numbers on nights like this. Zito's getting massacred by righties, and Lo Duca for his career has hit 50 points better against left-handed pitching. Of course, my call for patience at the plate doesn't play to his strong suit. If he keeps trying to hit homers by upper-cutting curve-balls, we're going to see a lot of Fred Lewis camping under. Look for Kearns, Belliard (who should absolutely get the start over Felipe), and Flores to do well also.
On the other hand, maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I'm thinking the window of opportunity to get any trade value for Cristian Guzman may be closing. He's hitting .158 in his last five games and was the only player not to get fat off the Braves' meltdown Sunday. Ruh-roh.
And I'm guessing Player of the Week Willie Harris will start to see his star fall, as fantasy owners throughout the land wonder what they were thinking.
The Nationals keep it going with a solid 5-2 win, and the people at www.FireBrianSabean.com will begin to dream that a sweep at home to the Nationals might spell the end of their misery like it did Seattle's. (Made you look!)
- One mildly interesting thing I forgot to mention: the Giants, like the Nationals, have only three OFs listed on their active roster. But it's not quite the mess we have. John Bowker, Eugenio Velez, and Emmanuel Burriss can play corner OF in a pinch, and any of their three starters can play CF. They have two catchers. And they have a first baseman. Two, even!