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feeling a draft

(photo by Irfan Khan)

At 6 p.m. tonight, Major League Baseball’s amateur draft will begin. And once the draft is officially underway, the Washington Nationals will use the first overall pick on San Diego State pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the highly-touted 20-year-old who instantly gives hope to the entire fanbase.

Regardless of what outrageous signing bonus demands agent/antichrist Scott Boras makes, Strasburg will be the top pick and will be selected by the Nats. Anything else and Major League Baseball should retract the Washington franchise on the spot.

But here’s where things get interesting – the Nationals also hold the 10th overall pick after failing to sign last year’s first rounder, Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow. For those in need of a refresher, the Nats refused to meet Crow’s demand of a $4.4 million signing bonus a year ago, so he’s back in the draft pool and Washington gets to try again with a second high-draft pick.

Let us say this up front: we’ve been called a lot of things over the years, but a baseball scout is not one of them. That being said, if given the chance here’s what we would do if we were acting general manager Mike Rizzo when the Nationals are on the clock with the 10th pick – draft Crow again.

Sure, there’s a good chance he won’t be around when the Nats are back on the clock at 10, but in the event he’s still on the board, take him again. Crow is easily one of the top talents available in the draft. That’s never been in question. The issue was agreeing on a signing bonus (the Nats offered $3.5 million).

But there are two reasons why this can work – Jim Bowden is gone. Everyone else who still remains employed by the organization can simply blame it on him (for better or worse, everyone else around town does). And here’s why you take a second chance on drafting Crow – you’ll have all of the leverage.

Are you telling us he’d hold out again? The kid already sat out a year during one of the most important phases of his young and promising career. There’s zero chance he can afford to sit out another season. Unlike the Strasburg situation where the rookie is in the driver’s seat knowing a.) he’s talented and b.) most of the rest of the roster is not, Crow will have to sign quick and get back into the daily grind sooner rather than later. This is a game of chicken the Nats can actually win.

Chances are Crow will be already be off the board by the time the Nats are ready to select their second first-rounder, but should the unexpected happen and the Missouri righty is still be on the board, the Nationals would be wise to give him a second chance to make a first impression.


cue the clown music

(photo by Nick Wass)

Win, lose or draw there’s one thing you can definitely say about the Washington Nationals – they’re entertaining.

Clinging to a 2-1 lead heading into the fifth inning, the Nationals showed why they lead the league in errors (and comically bad defense) with 50. Starting pitcher Craig Stammen allowed San Francisco Giants outfielder Fred Lewis and shortstop Juan Uribe to reach base on a pair of singles and then they advanced to second and third after a sacrifice by Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum.

The rookie pitcher would have walked the bases full but his offering to outfielder Aaron Rowand was in the dirt and got past Nats catcher Josh Bard, allowing one runner to score. Had that been the end of it, no one would have given the play a second thought. But for some reason, Bard decided to slide on his knees and blindly throw the ball in the general direction of home plate in a futile effort to get Lewis out. Unfortunately Bard’s throw was nowhere near the plate and sailed past Stammen, allowing Uribe to easily score as well. The only thing the play was missing was clown music. Or maybe Bob Uecker as the voice of a drunken Harry Doyle doing play-by-play.

Sure the Nats ultimately beat the Giants 10-6 and snapped a six-game losing streak, which is no small feat for a 14-36 team. But this play illustrated once again just how far this team has to go before it can reach a point where people feel like they’re watching a legitimate professional franchise. The New York Yankees set a major league record this week by going 18 games without committing an error. Conversely, the Nationals can’t go 18 batters without finding a way to screw up a seemingly routine play.

It’s too bad the Chicago Cubs have coined the term “Loveable Losers.” These Nats might not win very often, but you honestly can’t help rooting for them. The best part of gameday at Nats Park is watching the Racing Presidents just to see Teddy Roosevelt find a new heartbreaking way to lose every night. It’s not any different when the Nats take the field. They’ve got the worst earned run average in baseball (5.69). They’ve blown the most saves (13). They’ve committed the most errors. But at the end of the day, these guys are our losers.

We’ll rally around them now during the tough times just so that once they finally turn the corner and look halfway respectable it’ll be that much more gratifying. It happened for the Capitals. Hopefully, one of these days, the same will hold true for the Nationals.


call it baby steps

(photo by Evan Vucci)

All eyes were on the mound last night as Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Ross Detwiler made his professional debut.

As previously mentioned, the 23-year-old was forced into action because of injuries and ineffectiveness with Scott Olsen. Things got off to a rocky start for the Nats when shortstop Christian Guzman picked up two errors in the first inning, but Detwiler still looked sharp. In fact, Detwiler was all fans could have asked for – throwing 84 pitches, 61 of which were strikes. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse after Detwiler hit the showers.

Nats pitcher Garrett Mock entered the game in the sixth inning. He threw just 15 pitches and here’s what happened – a walk, a wild pitch, a hit batter and a two-RBI double for good measure. No sense in letting the kid get a win in his first outing. Wouldn’t want it to go to his head, would we now? So Mock did us all a favor and picked up another loss for the league’s doormat, who are now 11-26 on the year.

Here’s the part where we state the obvious about the Nats’ 12-7 loss to the Pirates Monday night. They lost while scoring seven runs. For those who haven’t been paying attention (and judging by the attendance figures, that’s the majority of you), this has become a troubling trend for the home team.

Over the last nine games, the Nats have scored 57 runs (for the mathematically challenged, that’s more than six runs per game). There’s just one problem. The Nationals have gone just 1-8 over the same span because they’ve given up an astounding 78 runs (more than eight runs per game).

So while it’s awesome to see Guzman batting an NL-best .385 on the season, followed by first baseman Nick Johnson (.336 batting average), third baseman Ryan Zimmerman (.358 batting average) and outfielder Adam Dunn (.286 average and 11 homers), they basically need to score double digits just to have a chance at victory these days.

Oh, and just so we’re not only blaming pitching, the Nationals lead the league in errors with 37. Yes, they have 37 errors in 37 games. And yes, if you found a way to screw up every single day you came to work, you certainly wouldn’t be a millionaire. You’d be unemployed. But these are growing pains.

And while there are plenty of negatives begging to be dwelled upon, we’re choosing to focus on a positive. In his first pro game, Detwiler delivered. There are a dozen things around him to be concerned about and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be nearly as sharp his next time he takes the mound, but on this night, Ross Detwiler gave Nats’ fans a reason to smile.


stepping up to the plate

(AP photo)

We’re headed into uncharted territory here on the blog. With our hockey season having come to an abrupt ending and football season not quite here, we’ll be turning our attention to that local baseball team that continues to try and find its way. Before we get to the on-the-field stuff, we wanted to take a broader view of the state of the franchise.

Let’s start with what we know.

The biggest reason the Washington Capitals have become one of the best and brightest teams in hockey is because general manager George McPhee and his talent evaluators are consistently able to turn high draft picks into name contributors.

Forget about top five picks like wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are also able to find guys later in the draft. Defenseman Mike Green (29th overall), goalie Simeon Varlamov (23rd overall) and forward Alexander Semin (13th overall) are just a few of players who fit into this category that will keep the Capitals competitive for the next several years.

Conversely, we have the Washington Redskins, who seemingly show up on the day of the draft with a plan to “just wing it.” When a team like the Baltimore Ravens or New England Patriots goes with the “best player available” draft strategy, more times than not they come out on top and walk away with a cornerstone for their franchise.

When the ‘Skins front office tries the same approach, they end up using three second rounders on pass catchers who fail to contribute. Sadly, this is actually the preferred method, since their other alternative is to give away draft picks for guys named Jason Taylor, Brandon Lloyd and T.J. Duckett. This is why clown music should be played in the Redskins’ war room on draft weekend.

Somewhere in between the Caps and ‘Skins we have the Washington Nationals. Like the Caps during their vaunted rebuild, the Nats seem content to suffer in the short term while stocking up the franchise for better long-term stability and depth. Fans might have to partake in a 100-loss season now, but the promise of better days led by Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann and others is supposed to ease the pain.

It’s great in theory to say “we’re blowing it up and rebuilding through the draft,” but at the end of the day you’ve got to have the right people in place to identify and select talented players in the draft. Otherwise, you’re destined for mediocrity.

So what can we say about the Nationals front office and the job they’ve done thus far in restocking the proverbial cupboard?

Um … not much. Other than guys named Zimmerman(n), the jury is still out. Last year’s first rounder was spent on Aaron Crow, a wonderfully talented pitcher out of Missouri. But the team failed to sign him and basically has nothing to show for the ninth pick in the 2008 draft.

The first rounder from 2007 is a pitcher named Ross Detwiler from Missouri State. He’s currently the second ranked prospect in the Nats’ farm system (behind Zimmermann) and will be taking the mound for Washington tonight. Ideally Detwiler wouldn’t be pitching at the major league level today (he’s 0-3 with a 2.96 ERA with Double-A Harrisburg), but such is life with the Nats. Injuries and ineffectiveness with Scott Olsen mean we get our first glimpse at Detwiler sooner rather than later.

Regardless of how Detwiler fares tonight he’s in better shape than Chris Marrero, the team’s 2006 first rounder (and the third ranked prospect in the organization). We attended a Potomac Nationals game last week and saw Marrero strike out in consecutive at bats in a total of just six pitches. This guy makes a living as a power hitter and it’s okay to swing for the fences on occasion, but he wasn’t even close to making contact on this day. We’re hoping we just caught him on a bad day.

And don’t even get us started on Marrero’s Potomac teammate Stephen King, a third rounder from the same 2006 draft. We’ve nicknamed him “Dorn” because it looked to us like he was fine playing third base as long as he didn’t have to get his uniform dirty.

As a rule, baseball players take longer to develop than football or hockey players. We know this and fully understand it. But because the situation is so destitute with the big league club, a lot of these youngsters are naturally being asked to play at an accelerated level. Some are responding well. Others are not.

So while we’re only 36 games into the season and it’s already safe to say the competitive portion of this season has come and gone, there are still reasons to tune in. Tonight, it’s Detwiler. And who knows, maybe the kid comes out and is able to put it all together against a very beatable Pittsburgh Pirates squad. And if he can stick around, then suddenly you’re looking at a rotation with John Lannan, Shairon Martis, Jordan Zimmermann, Detwiler and a spot reserved for Stephen Strasburg come this summer. If that doesn’t give you a reason to smile then nothing will.


note: not good times

(courtesy photo)

In technical terms, yesterday sucked balls.

Any D.C. sports fan knows exactly where I’m coming from, but for the benefit of the rest of the class, here’s a recap of the series of nut shots that’s given us more than enough reason to put a bag of frozen vegetables on our collective beanbag as we attempt to recover from a painful Wednesday.

For starters, the one team that consistently wins in this town, the Washington Capitals, was not able to get the job done with their season on the line. And while losing is almost inevitable in team sports, doing so to your most hated rival on a national stage makes it a whole lot tougher to deal with.

“They were more composed with the puck, and the other thing they did and the reason they won the game is because they outworked us,” said forward Brooks Laich after the Caps’ 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. “It’s not easy to stand in front of you guys and say that we’ve been outworked in our building in a game seven. I’m sure that’s something we’re going to have to think about for a long time.”

Sadly, there is no truth to the rumor that due to a scheduling conflict involving a Yanni concert, the Capitals’ offense was thrown off a day and is actually arriving in town tonight for a pivotal game seven. I guess we’ll have to wait five months to see how the Capitals respond to this bit of adversity.

And right around the same time that the Caps were imploding, the one reason to care about the Nationals was suffering a similar fate. You see, the Nats were kind enough to start the season 1-10, letting the rest of the country know “there’s nothing to see here” and to move along for another season or two until the Nationals get some pitching and additional depth.

Well, the one reason folks outside of the beltway actually acknowledge this current team is Ryan Zimmerman, the third baseman who saw his 30-game hitting streak come to an end last night just as folks were beginning to take notice.

Sure, the Nats at 11-21 are still the worst team in baseball. But Zimmerman matched George Brett’s 30-game streak in 1980 for the longest by a third baseman since Pete Rose’s 44-game streak in 1978.

“He put us on the map a little bit with what he did,” said Nationals manager Manny Acta, who has apparently mastered the art of the understatement.

And the icing on the cake comes courtesy of the Redskins, who, thankfully, did not have a game yesterday and therefore did not find a way to fall apart in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers or an equally inferior opponent.

Click here for the full article.

Note to self is a weekly sports column written for HoboTrashcan.


note: damn the plan, warren

(AP photo)

This past weekend, Washington Nationals outfielder Elijah Dukes was fined $500 and benched for being late to a game against the Florida Marlins.

Nats acting general manager Mike Rizzo and (acting) manager Manny Acta opted to fine and bench Dukes because the controversial outfielder was late and his excuse was not a team-sponsored event. They even went as far as to warn Dukes that if he was tardy again, he could be demoted to the minor leagues. Sounds great, right? The team should be applauded for trying to instill discipline and accountability to a young and immature lineup, right? In the words of the immortal poet Lee Corso, “Not so fast, sweetheart.”

Dukes was running behind because he was speaking with the Great Falls Little League in Northern Virginia. After addressing the kids, he stuck around to sign autographs and watch a parade of little leaguers, so he got to the ballpark a few minutes later than he intended. He didn’t miss the start of the game, he simply arrived late for warm ups, stretching, etc.

“We are going to change the culture here, regardless of how well a guy is playing,” said Acta. And why wouldn’t he? I mean, what kind of message does it send when a player goes out and gives back to the local community? The Nationals have gone out of their way to alienate the local fanbase since the moment they arrived in town and here’s this jerkwad trying to do his own thing. This kind of insubordination simply cannot and will not be tolerated. Clearly this is grounds for waterboarding.

When the idea of a professional baseball team relocating to our nation’s capital was first broached, I was all for it. In my lifetime your choices were to either cheer for the Baltimore Orioles, who were a great option until Peter “Satan” Angelos came into the picture, or don’t watch baseball. Sure, bandwagon fans could jump on the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs because that’s what trendy people do, but that wasn’t really my thing. So I stuck with the Washington Redskins, Capitals and Bullets.

But then Major League Baseball, even in spite of Angelos’ protests, brought baseball into the fold. Before the start of the 2005 season, the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals. A new generation was ready to whole-heartedly embrace the national pastime. Or at least that was the plan.

Click here for the full article.

Note to self is a weekly sports column written for HoboTrashcan.


shock jock

(photo by Brian Murphy)

Chris Cooley’s nude study habits aside, the talk of the town this week is Vinny Cerrato, and the announcement that the Redskins’ executive vice president of football operations is ESPN 980’s newest radio host.

Starting today, Cerrato will host Inside The Red Zone With Vinny Cerrato, which is scheduled for two hours every Monday and Friday. Apparently, many folks in town feel that Cerrato, whose job description includes personnel decisions, directing the Redskins’ draft, identifying free agency needs and acquisitions, coordinating all pro and college player evaluations, and day-to-day football operations, should concentrate more on football and less on … well … anything else.

Honestly, I don’t get the big deal. ESPN columnist Bill Simmons completed a fantasy football trade on his podcast this week. How great would it be to hear Cerrato on the horn with the New York Jets or the Denver Broncos chatting about possible trade scenarios? If people are willing to listen to Clinton Portis and Brian Mitchell bicker on air, then they’d definitely tune in to hear Cerrato on the phone with player agents working out when would be best to fly in clients for the suddenly vacant punter position. There’s no real way I see this show not being a hit.

Actually, that’s not true. History shows that Washington-based general managers rarely succeed as radio hosts. Fans might not remember, but each of the other three local GMs had a short stint as a radio host, with all three shows failing to catch on in the local market. For those who don’t remember, here’s a recap:

Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden’s radio show never got off the ground because they refused to put any money into it. They showed up in a brand new market in the middle of the night, tried to get by on the cheap using a handful of nobodies off the street and expected a steady fanbase to appear over night. To read more about the show’s failures and terrible ratings, please read the next “kick ‘em while they’re down” piece by Dan Steinberg.

Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s radio show never lasted because he continued to bring back the same mediocre cast season after season. Sure, it was offensive, but it didn’t bring much else to the table. If an angry caller ever phoned in with a negative opinion, there wasn’t anyone on the roster capable of coming to Big Ern’s defense.

Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee’s radio show failed because … um … have you heard the man? Whenever GMGM appears on the John Thompson Show they refer to him as the “Undertaker.” He might be able to put together a competent hockey team, but apparently personality costs extra. For what it’s worth, I hear his show always did well in Russia.

For more info on Cerrato’s new show, click here.

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