Thursday, August 7, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Brewers (8/8)

Nationals at Rockies: Friday, August 8 at 8:05 ET
I have a friend who says ridiculous things like "hell's bells yeah!" when she's excited. It always sounds totally silly to me. But somehow I'm compelled to write, "HELL'S BELLS YEAH!!" With a three-week stretch of games without a break in 3 time zones including the altitude and the short-handedness, his team had every excuse to mail it in. Two weeks ago, it seemed that an AED couldn't have revived this team's heart. That was then. These are the NewNationals. But to just give them credit for showing heart under difficult circumstances sells them short. They also played some darn good baseball against a team that is still very tough at home.

Jason Bergmann, did your ERA just fall from 4.33 to 4.13 in Coors? Damn right. Lastings Milledge, you didn't just go 5 for 9 with two homers and 5 RBI? Oh yes you did! Joel Hanrahan, you couldn't possibly have saved two games in one day, giving up just one baserunner and no walks? Damn skippy! OK, but there's no way in hell that Emilio Bonifacio is hitting a .969 OPS since coming to the Nationals. I can believe a lot, but that's just silly. But no! It's true! Baseball-Reference doesn't lie! Fine, but I refuse to believe that Cristian Guzman drew a walk. I'm gullible, but I'm not stupid...

OK, so I'm getting a little overexcited. But truly, there are some positive developments happening on this team. I'm really amazed at how young players get better over time. It's been so rare that we've had any, that this phenomenon was almost forgotten here in DC.

So we're off to Milwaukee, where we'll play a much better team and probably not do very well. But fuck it. We just swept a double-header from the NL champs who by the way were a .585 team at home before we came to town. Here's my take on the first game of the Milwaukee series.

Pitching match-up
CC Sabathia: The hefty lefty is a power pitcher with three plus pitches--fastball, curve, and change. He's the reigning Cy Young winner, but since he came to the NL he's been even better, posting a 1.88 ERA in six starts for the Brewers. One big concern for him has been overwork--counting the playoffs he pushed 250 innings last year, and if you only watched him lose to the Sox in the playoffs you saw a gassed pitcher. (Too bad--Cleveland would have been a far more likeable champ, no?)

There was a time a few years ago when Sabathia's weak point was command, but you can forget all about that. Last year in particular his command was magnificent--he was third in the league in BB/9, beaten by Maddux and Byrd, two guys who don't stink but strikeout half as many guys as CC. I haven't looked at the historical recrods, but 209 Ks with 37 walks has to be one of the better seasons ever. This year he's back to merely excellent as his walk rate has risen a bit. But Sabathia is still one of the best pitchers in baseball, maybe the very best lefty in the game, and no I'm not forgetting Santana. The Nationals have their work cut out for them

Collin Balester: Balester is on quite a little roll now. His last two starts he's been a different guy--instead of being overly dependent on his fastball and living on the black as he did for his first few starts, he's had a good curve and more importantly a good change to put people away.

What To Look For

If Balester is getting strikes with all three pitches, sit back and enjoy. He'll do well.

One factor in Balester's improvement is better defense behind him. Thank goodness we're back to managing to help our team instead of some silly effort to "showcase" crappy players for trades.

I'm going to look at plate discipline in a more detailed way at some point soon, but today we'll need to really have a good approach to get CC to come in. That means laying off or spoiling pitcher's pitches, not swinging at breaking balls out of the zone, and then if and when we ever see a hitter's count, capitalizing. One thing though--just saying "be patient" is a lot different from doing it. We too often talk about overaggressiveness as just a mental error, and sometimes it is. But it takes real skill--pitch identification, bat control--to work into hitter's counts. I think more guys right now "get it," but whether they can do it is something else. Today's a good test.

What to Root For
Every start for Balester is all about Balester as far as I'm concerned. He, Lannan, and Bergmann (the future back of a very good rotation fronted by Crow, Zimmermann, and/or Strasburg?) have a nice little run going.

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 7-9)

Brewers win behind Sabathia, but Balester holds his own. 4-1 sounds right.

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