Nationals at Rockies: Tuesday, August 5 at 9:05 ET
The winning streak ends, as Manny struggles through his 62nd short-handed game of the season. E-Bone goes 0-4 with two Ks. The bullpen finally performs like a bullpen that lost two closers. A momentary bump, or are the NewNationals reverting to form? Here's my take on game 2.
Jeff Francis: I have never really understood why Jeff Francis is considered a budding ace. Certainly I'm sure scouts know way more than I do, but I just don't see it. Francis is a 27-year-old lefty, and he has basically three pitches: a fastball at 86, a curve and a change. Command and durability have been his best assets, while his strikeout numbers in the majors have been fine but nothing special. Sounds like a very solid #3 to me.
I think a lot of people tend to give him the benefit of the doubt because of his home park, but the reality is that he's been worse on the road than at home every year since he became a regular starter, posting a home ERA of 4.48 with 5.12 on the road. Whatever benefit of the doubt you get for the Coors factor in my mind is mostly canceled out when you post a 5.12 road ERA pitching in the NL West. Then there are those 17 wins in 2007, which no doubt impress a lot of people who get their baseball coverage from the Washington Post only. Wins are a terrible way to judge the success of a pitcher, as it measures at least as much the effectiveness of the offense and bullpen as it does the pitcher (hear that, John Lannan, Collin Balester, and Jason Bergmann? Don't give those press clippings a moment's thought).
This year, his ERA has risen from 4.22 to 5.67, mainly as a result of decreased command. His walk per 9 has gone from 2.63 to 3.60, leaving him right about league average. "League average" describes a lot of his other numbers as well--goundball/flyball ratios, strand rate, and K rate. Actually, the Ks are a bit worse than average. He's still better at Coors than on the road, and although his HR/FB rate is in fact a bit high, likely a Coors effect, the reality is that the numbers say that he's just an average guy (and not in the ironic, Lou Reed way).
Odalis Perez: In his last start in Nationals Park, Odalis gave 7 innings of 1-run ball to kick off the nice little run by the NewNationals. It appeared that he (and Kearns) got the message that underperforming veterans weren't going to get any more rope, and he buckled down.
After watching Perez this year for the first time really ever, I've come to the conclusion that the pitcher we've seen this year is closer to the real Perez (although his LOB rate is still an unsustainably high 77.2%) than the clunker who's been knocking around the dregs of the league the last few years. He brings a fastball, cutter, curve, and change and still does it with enough command to keep hitters off balance and induce lots of grounders. I just kind of think he's a knuckle-head. He's not quite Homer Bailey, but a guy with his stuff needs a little more poise and mental toughness than he brings to the game to be effective. His nice 1.39 GB/FB rate should allow him to survive Coors, as long as he doesn't go picking any fights with the homeplate ump or hurting himself diving head-first into first base.
What To Look For
I'm going to look closer at his overall defensive numbers this year, but from casual viewing while cooking dinner and changing the baby (how's that for expert analysis!) he seems to be smoother in CF and handling the challenge of Coors well.
Fer chrissake Bowden put Guzman on the DL! Call up a first baseman or an outfielder or another arm! Anyone who can play!
Kearns, Milledge, and Zimmerman have all done well against Francis in limited action, while Flores has punished lefties all year and has one base hit in 3 AB career against this one. Atkins, Taveras, and Barmes have all had their way with Odalis.
What to Root For
Contact for Bonifacio. Francis isn't the big strikeout guy that De La Rosa was, so he needs to bounce back and put the ball on the ground.
(Season record: 7-7)
Rox chase Odalis after 5, the bullpen continues it's steady regression to the mean, and Average Francis is good enough against the NewNationals.