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The champs are back.
After the shortest offseason in franchise history and the first where jubilation trumped the normal wintertime heartbreak, the Washington Nationals are getting ready to defend their title as World Series champions.
That sentence is as fun to write as it is to say.
It’s worth taking a look at how the Nationals won their first World Series before dissecting the team they bring into the 2020 season. Arguably the biggest storyline of the Nats’ World Series run was the way in which they actually did it. The Nationals went from an injury-struck team with high expectations yet poor performance through mid-May to the dominant World Series Champions spiritually led by a journeyman reserve outfielder, Baby Shark, and rose-colored promotional sunglasses. The 2019 Nationals sported a historically bad bullpen; only the lowly Orioles had a worse bullpen ERA than the World Series champion Nationals. Remember Trevor Rosenthal, Kyle Barraclough, and Matt Grace? They won it all with only four “real” starting pitchers; the fifth spot became a revolving door of rookies and journeymen. They did it with an unproven outfield, starting Victor Robles in center field on Opening Day although he hadn’t played a full season in the majors yet. Why did they have to start Robles? The man who made the Nationals a formidable World Series threat, Bryce Harper, left the team for the archrival Phillies, who offered Harper a 13 year contract worth an eye-popping $330 million. How ironic was it that the Nationals finally made it over the hump in Harper’s first pro season away from the team.
For all the flaws that the 2019 Nationals had, they were still a really good team. The left side of the infield was undoubtedly baseball’s best, with young shortstop Trea Turner and hitting machine Anthony Rendon leading the offensive charge. Juan Soto, the 20-year old phenom outfielder, played his first full season as a National. Ample production came out of second base, where Brian Dozier, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Howie Kendrick platooned for nearly the entire season, and catcher, where Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki gave the Nationals their best backstoppers since the departure of Wilson Ramos. The Nats got the biggest fish on the starting pitching free agent market in the 2018 offseason, Patrick Corbin, to join with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg to make one of the league’s most dominant starting pitching rotations. It takes serious talent to go from 19-31 to the World Series champions, and these Nationals definitely had the talent the whole time.
General Manager Mike Rizzo did a very good job of “keeping the gang together” during this offseason. However, keeping the exact same World
Series-winning team for the next year seldom rarely works – you can ask the 2019 Boston Red Sox about that one. Let’s start with the subtractions from the 2019 team. The first, and most notable difference, from the 2019 Nationals is Anthony Rendon. The mild-mannered third baseman signed a mega contract with the Anaheim Angels paying him $245 million over the next seven years. Rendon, who is considered as one of the top third basemen in all of baseball, left a big hole at the hot corner and in the #3 spot for the Nationals to fill. This will sting the Nationals. They will have to rely heavily on another rookie, Carter Kieboom, to take the bulk of playing time at third base. He may platoon with Asdrubal Cabrera, but for the most part, Kieboom will have to step up his game to become an everyday player. Personally, I think he will be up to the challenge. Kieboom, who is ranked as the 21st best prospect in all of baseball, showed signs of pop in his bat during the brief time he spent in Washington last season. He’ll need to work on his fielding as it was a weakness of his during his big league stint last season, but if he is able to hone his skills in that facet of his game, Kieboom should be able to pick up Rendon’s slack. The Nats also (probably) lost Brian Dozier to free agency, who has yet to sign with a team but is almost certainly not returning to a Nationals team with four second basemen by trade. Dozier is a hard worker and a great teammate, and Nationals fans will never forget his shirtless “Calma” karaoke sessions in the locker room following playoff wins. Although he will be missed in the locker room, it doesn’t make any baseball sense for the Nats to sign him back at this point. Losing Gerardo Parra, the Nationals’ morale booster and fan favorite, though, might be as sentimentally devastating as any other free agent loss this offseason. Parra wasn’t only the fun-loving replacement outfielder with the earworm walk-up music; he served as a valuable bat off of the bench. He brought his baby shark and talents across the Pacific to the Yomiuri Giants of Japan.
The Nats also made their team a lot better in the offseason, firstly by re-signing lots of 2019 Nationals who were free agents after the 2019 season. Most notably, Mike Rizzo made the very important decision to re-sign Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP, to a contract friendly to both sides. Strasburg will make the same as Anthony Rendon in Anaheim, with a 7-year, $245 million contract. This was a fantastic decision from the front office, as the Nationals couldn’t afford (from a baseball standpoint) to lose Strasburg and be forced to look elsewhere for a fourth starter. Strasburg is a very valuable arm for the Nationals; he will be able to give Davey Martinez seven innings each night he pitches and leave just two innings to the bullpen. The Nats also did a lot to improve their bullpen in an attempt to improve the ghastly performance of the back end last year. Daniel Hudson, who was the closer down the stretch and made the famous final pitch to end Game 7 of the World Series, is back for the 2020 season, as is Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, and Wander Suero. Hudson will likely be out of the closer role in the 2020 season, a role which Hudson is quoted saying he did not enjoy. Still, Hudson provides a solid bullpen arm that Davey Martinez will make liberal use of. Will Harris, who is famous in Nationals lore for giving up the home run in Game 7 to Howie Kendrick that turned the tide of the final game, is now a National himself, adding an elite bullpen arm to a bullpen that desperately needed one. The Nationals, like last year, also added some prospects and projects in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough. Kyle Finnegan is a young reliever acquired from Oakland and Ryne Harper was acquired recently from Minnesota who should add depth to the bullpen and should be more productive in the position than Trevor Rosenthal or Kyle Barraclough last year.
In the field, the Nationals have moved some pieces around to make up for the loss of Anthony Rendon. As mentioned earlier, Carter Kieboom will step into a role as the starting third baseman on Opening Day. The outfield will remain the same, patrolled by Adam Eaton, Victor Robles, and Juan Soto. At catcher, a position which the Nationals have historically struggled at, the Nats re-signed Yan Gomes to platoon with Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. This combination worked very well for the team last year, and should continue to be very successful. First base was another position in question for Rizzo and the Nationals. They went with an aging Ryan Zimmerman for the majority of the 2019 season, with Matt Adams and Howie Kendrick filling in for Zim on his off days. Along with bringing back Zimmerman, the Nationals signed Eric Thames from the Milwaukee Brewers on a one year contract. The Thames signing gives the Nationals a pure power hitter in their lineup – someone like Matt Adams but with a little more upside. I really like this signing – even if it means that this year will be a farewell tour for Zimmerman. Elsewhere in the infield, the Nationals signed Starlin Castro for second base. Castro will serve in a similar position to Brian Dozier last season, as he will split time with Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera at second base. If he produces at the level he did in the second half of the 2019 season for the Miami Marlins, expect Castro to be more of an everyday second baseman. Kendrick and Cabrera, the most versatile players on the active roster, were both respectively re-signed this offseason. The Nationals hope that the two can replicate their effectiveness displayed during the entire 2019 playoffs.
As it stands right now, the Nationals will look roughly like this when they take the field on March 27 at Citi Field in Queens.
Catcher – Kurt Suzuki
First Base – Eric Thames
Second Base – Starlin Castro
Third Base – Carter Kieboom
Shortstop – Trea Turner
Left Field – Juan Soto
Center Field – Victor Robles
Right Field – Adam Eaton
Bench – Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yan Gomes, Andrew Stevenson
Starting Pitching – Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Erick Fedde/Joe Ross/Austin Voth
Relief Pitching – Sean Doolittle, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Finnegan, Ryne Harper, Wander Suero, Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland
This roster is very competitive. Washington’s starting pitching is the best in all of baseball with a 3-time Cy Young award winner, the reigning World Series MVP, and one of the top five left handed starting pitchers in all of baseball. Not to mention Anibal Sanchez, who almost no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of the National League Championship Series. The bullpen is greatly improved thanks to the addition of Harris, as he’ll join Hudson and Doolittle for a back end capable to shut down opposing hitters after facing a Scherzer or Strasburg start. The speedy Trea Turner and productive Adam Eaton will go one-two in the lineup, followed by Juan Soto, Starlin Castro, and Eric Thames. Over the season, Carter Kieboom should become more reliable to hit in the five or six spot in the lineup, but he will likely start towards the bottom like Victor Robles did last year. This team is very well-rounded and has the talent to make another run at the World Series.
All that stands in their way is a very talented NL East. Aside from the Miami Marlins, you could make a good argument for any team to go ahead and
win the NL East. Atlanta, last year’s division champions, feature a deep lineup with many young stars. The Braves sport a five-tool talent in Ronald Acuna, an elite power hitter in Freddie Freeman, and a true ace in Mike Soroka. This team is really good, and it keeps getting better; they picked up Marcell Ozuna in free agency to team up with Acuna and Ender Inciarte this offseason. The New York Mets, regardless of the tire fire in the front office, still sport a very good baseball team. Jacob deGrom is probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, and he makes up part of a deadly rotation with Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. The bullpen has starpower, with Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz, and Jeurys Familia being lights-out relievers if they return back to their prior form. They’ve got the reigning rookie of the year and bonafide slugger in Pete Alonso, and have other young talent like Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis rounding out their lineup. In Philadelphia, the strength of the team lies within its lineup. Led by Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies’ lineup is a nice balance between power hitters and consistent average hitters. J.T. Realmuto is the best all-around catcher in the league, and the middle infield is strong with Jean Segura and new addition Didi Gregorius. On the mound, their bullpen is a liability (but we said the same about last year’s Nationals). Still, they have a dominant top three in the rotation, with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Wheeler. The poor Marlins are going to have a tough time building for the future with this talent in their division. While it’ll be a dogfight, I think the Braves will win their third consecutive division title, with the Nationals in the Wild Card game for a second straight year. The top four in the division will be within no more than seven games of each other when the season ends, so really, it’s anyone’s division.
I really like the team that the Nationals are going into the new year with. Will they be able to replicate the magical season of last year? Probably not. But as Davey Martinez says, if the Nationals can just go 1-0 every day, who knows what could happen.
Missing the championship run of last year? Check out my interviews and posts from the magical playoff run –
The Nationals’ League
A Nationals Parade
Navy Yard Businesses See Boom In Business During World Series
Meet the Nationals’ Youngest Fans from All Things Considered, WAMU NPR Radio
Fox 5 Interviews Before Game 1 of World Series
Last night, I attended the annual Bob Feller Act of Valor Award ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C. This year’s recipients were Randy Johnson, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Diamondbacks and Mariners; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, and Navy Logistics Specialist Chief Jairo N. Guity. The Foundation also honored Gunnery Sargeant Joshua MacMillan of the US Marine Corps with the Jerry Coleman Award and the USS America’s JEA chapter and the Great Lakes Chapter of CSADD with the Peer-to-Peer Award. Among the VIP guests at this year’s ceremony was John Dalton, Navy Secretary under President Clinton, and Thomas Modly, Under Secretary of the Navy.
The Act of Valor Award honors Bob Feller, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians from 1936 to 1956. Feller was the first American professional athlete to enlist in the military after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Feller threw no-hitters in 3 different years, including the only no-hitter ever thrown on Opening Day. “Rapid Robert” Feller was also called “The Heater from Van Meter” after his hometown of Van Meter, Iowa because he threw some of the fastest fastballs in baseball history. He pitched 3,287 innings, threw 44 shutouts, and rang up 2,581 strike outs in his career, which was interrupted by serving 3 years as a gun captain on the U.S.S. Alabama in the Navy during World War II.
The Act of Valor Award is given out to three people who share the characteristics of Bob Feller: an active MLB player, a member of the Navy, and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Act of Valor Foundation also gives out the Jerry Coleman Award, named after the late legendary San Diego Padres broadcaster and former Yankees 2nd baseman Jerry Coleman. Coleman served as a colonel in the Marines during WWII and Korea, the only MLB player ever to serve in both wars. He is also a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a Ford Frick winner. The Jerry Coleman Award honors a US Marine Non-commissioned Officer who has shown unyielding support for the Marines and the United States of America.
The Foundation also awarded the Peer-to-Peer Award. Both honorees are groups of sailors ages 18-25 who demonstrate honor, courage, and commitment. They also encourage peer-to-peer mentoring and to reduce personal destructive decision making. The award was given to teams of sailors who participate in the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions or Junior Enlisted Association.
Randy Johnson, one of the most iconic pitchers of the 1990s, was the Hall of Fame player awarded with the Act of Valor Award. Johnson is an
active participant with the United Service Organization (USO) and has gone on countless trips to visit troops abroad for the past ten years. Johnson was honored to receive this award, especially due to its’ namesake, Hall of Fame pitcher and Navy Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller.
“I played 26 years of professional baseball, so I know the time and demand it takes to be a baseball player,” Johnson said. “For him to be a Hall of Fame baseball player and still serve our country, it says a lot about the person.”
Ian Kennedy currently is a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. Kennedy was honored with the Act of Valor Award for giving back to military families in the Kansas City area. He hosts military families at Royals games and is involved with Folds of Honor, Honor Flight Kansas City, and the USO. Kennedy, like Johnson, is very humbled by winning the Act of Valor Award.
“It’s humbling just to be recognized for the work that we do,” Kennedy told me. “To use baseball as an outlet to show our gratitude for our service men and women, it means a lot.”
Logistics Specialist Chief Jairo N. Guity was the member of the Navy honored with the award. A member of the Blue Angels, LSC Guity has accumulated many awards for his volunteer work. He has accumulated over 1,300 volunteer hours as a member of the Navy and volunteers with multiple organizations.
Gunnery Sergeant Joshua MacMillan of the United States Marine Corps was awarded the Jerry Coleman Award. Like Logistics Specialist Chief Guity, GySgt MacMillan is a very active in his community and is an active volunteer. A veteran of three deployments, MacMillan has shown countless dedication to his country and to the Marine Corps.
The other MLB nominees for the Award this year were Minnesota Twins OF Byron Buxton, Milwaukee Brewers P Josh Hader, New York Mets pitcher Steven Matz, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, Houston Astros OF Josh Reddick, Atlanta Braves P Will Smith, San Diego Padres P Craig Stammen, and Boston Red Sox P Rick Porcello.
As we recently celebrates Veterans Day, I dedicate this post to the service men and women who risked their lives and made personal sacrifices for the safety and security of our nation. Thank you for your generosity, service, and selflessness to the United States. Learn more about the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award at http://www.actofvaloraward.org/
Restaurants in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, D.C. saw a significant increase in business during the Nationals appearance in the World
Series, local business owners report.
Restaurants in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, D.C., saw an increase in sales of 218% in the month of October. These statistics were gathered by the financial analysis firm MarginEdge, and corroborated what business owners saw in sales. Some restaurant managing partners, like Tom Johnson of Willie’s Brew and Que, were surprised at the business created by the World Series.
“Since this was the first World Series in D.C. since 1924, no one knew what to expect,” Johnson said. “The World Series was completely unlike anything else, and we definitely underestimated the turnout, which was huge.”
Entrepreneurs who own businesses near Nationals Park made significant preparations to accommodate the influx of customers before World Series games by increasing staffing and food purchased. The time and resources allotted by business owners paid off, as they reported increases in sales and customers. Fritz Brogan, a managing partner of Mission Navy Yard, a bar located across the street from Nationals Park, saw these changes firsthand.
“We served thousands of customers a day for the home games and for Game 7,” Brogan said. “It was extremely good for business and we loved the energy that fans brought.”
As the MLB playoffs are unpredictable, staff at local restaurants needed to adapt accordingly and work long hours. One restaurant that was impacted by extra-long hours is The Salt Line. The Salt Line, co-owned by Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, was frequented by players, team staff, and on occasion, celebrities attending games or celebrating wins. General Manager Whitney Satra explained the necessary preparations for such an event.
“Our management team worked with our servers and bartenders to really take time to make the fans who joined us all year long feel special,” Satra said. “Those extra touches from our team were really appreciated and it was nice to see everyone celebrate together.”
Restaurants also made special preparations to allow patrons to celebrate the Nationals’ championship. Restaurants throughout the region created food and drink specials and held watch parties for both the games and for the parade. However, some establishments closer to the stadium took postgame celebrations to the next level.
“As we saw the victory coming, we began to stock cases of champagne behind the bar and covering our DJ equipment,” Brogan said. “When the
game ended, hundreds of people were spraying beer and champagne and dancing on the tables!”
Aside from the Nationals’ first World Series championship in franchise history, though, business owners in the Navy Yard had other reasons to celebrate.
Johnson said, “During Game 7, we saw an increase in revenue of 900%.”
Thank you to the three restaurants featured for speaking with MattsBats.com. The next time you are attending a game at Nationals Park, I recommend that you try the delicious food at:
Mission Navy Yard (Van Street SE and N Street SE)
Willie’s Brew and Que (Tingey Street SE and 3rd Street SE)
The Salt Line (First Street SE and Potomac Avenue SE)
As sports fans, we wait our entire lives to see moments like what happened Saturday afternoon in Washington. We dream of one day seeing our favorite athletes hoist the championship trophy in their hometown, overlooking thousands upon thousands of screaming fans, as drunk from celebration as could possibly be. For fans in cities like Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago, these types of celebration have been commonplace in the past decade. Last year, the Washington Capitals brought us Washingtonians our first taste of this championship glory. Earlier in October, we saw the Washington Mystics win their title. For me and for many other fans, however, the parade and rally of the Nationals’ World Series championship was the sweetest of them all. Savor the moment, Washington. The Nationals did it.
I got to the parade area at around 9:30 am. I staked out a spot around the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue, and waited. I had the opportunity to talk to two fellow fans who were waiting there early to grab a good spot.
Arguably the Nationals fan who went the most “viral” on social media after the championship was Jason Turner. He was at the watch party at Nationals Park during Game 7, and once Daniel Hudson struck out Michael Brantley to secure the World Series, Turner took off his shirt and slid on top of the wet Nationals dugout. When offering his rationale behind what happened in that moment, Turner said that “as D.C. sports fans, we don’t win that often, but when we win, we party.”
The parade and championship also meant a lot to Louis Hoffman, who has been a D.C. baseball fan since he was a boy. He remembers watching the “old Senators with players like Frank Howard and Aurelio Rodriguez” and the Senators having no shot at winning the World Series. But Hoffman realizes how special this moment is. “Some people go their whole life and never have their team win the World Series. But for me, I’ve been waiting 57 years for this, and it means the world to me.”
The parade started with much fanfare. The players rode in double-decker sightseeing buses, and the first one to pass by featured Gerardo Parra (and his baby shark toy) and Adam Eaton. Everyone around serenaded Parra with the Baby Shark dance. The next bus continued the dance (as Baby Shark was now playing from the speakers), which could be called “El Autobus Dominicano” and was populated by all of the Dominican
players on the team.
Mayor Bowser rode in her own bus with her staff (she threw me a stress ball!) and scholar-athletes from the Washington Nationals Youth Academy followed soon after. Sean Doolittle went down the parade route riding the bullpen cart, wielding a lightsaber, because Sean Doolittle is awesome. After a few DC area little league teams walked by, Howie Kendrick showed off the NLCS MVP trophy to the crowd. Pitching coach Paul Menhart rode with some of his pitchers, including World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg (who did not carry his hardware for the crowd).
The highlight, though, was when the trophy went by. It was hard not to get a little emotional when Ryan Zimmerman, Dave Martinez, and Mike Rizzo went by with the World Series trophy. Confetti filled the air, and the cheers coming from the Nationals’ faithful was deafening. It realized the dream we’ve been living in the last few days; The Washington Nationals are World Series Champions.
P.S. – I’d like to step up to Adam Eaton’s hotline to deliver this message. Can we bring back Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg?
Here are some pictures from the parade, whether you’d like to re-live the moment or see what it was like for yourself.
Fans anxiously await the World Series champion Nationals
The Clydesdales walk down Constitution for the second time in two years (Photo via @REnsiemada)
Mike Rizzo living his absolute best life (Photo via @LetTeddyWin)
What a celebration. The Nationals deserve it. They’re World Series Champions.
Next week, a phenomenon will occur that has not happened in Washington since the Franklin Roosevelt administration. For the first time in several generations, baseball fans from the District, Maryland, and Virginia finally will get to experience watching their hometown team play in the Fall Classic. The Washington Nationals are going to the World Series!
Other baseball teams, like the Yankees or the Cardinals, have a long history of success, as their fans will certainly be happy to tell you. For Washingtonians, our modern baseball history dates back only 14 years ago, when when the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005. We are the first generation of Washington Nationals fans, and this is the first time that we can say that our team is in the World Series.
For the younger generation of fans, like myself, this win is a coming of age experience. I literally grew up with the team. I was born in the summer of 2004, as the Expos were finishing up their final season north of the border. The first full baseball season I was alive for was the Nats’ inaugural season. My elementary years coincided with the team’s development years.
I went to my first baseball game as a five-year old in 2009. I will always remember that day. It was a game against the New York Mets. Our seats were so high up in the upper deck of Nationals Park you could feel the breeze coming from the Anacostia River. We complacently watched as the Mets scored five runs in the first inning against the Nationals’ starting pitcher, and the game ended in a usual rout for the lowly Washington team. But even on that day, I became a baseball fan for life.
The story of the Nationals franchise is the story of growth and maturation. I was in the ballpark in 2010, when
center fielder Nyjer Morgan had a temper tantrum in the outfield and threw his glove at a missed fly ball, which led to an inside-the-park home run. That was the same year Jason Marquis gave up 10 runs in the first inning without recording an out. I was despondent when closer Drew Storen gave up two go-ahead runs with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 9th inning of the Nationals’ first playoff series. I remember pitcher Henry Rodriguez throw a 100 mph fastball so wide of the catcher’s glove that it ricocheted off of the backstop and nearly hit Rodriguez, who was standing on the mound, in the head. The Nationals’ 2014 season ended in the playoffs with a wild pitch on an intentional walk, followed by another bases-loaded wild pitch. The Nationals’ 2015 season ended with the closer putting a chokehold on the MVP outfielder in the dugout during a game.
That’s not to say it has all been bad as a Nats fan. We’ve seen more no-hitters thrown in our team’s short history than the New York Mets organization. We even saw Max Scherzer throw a near-perfect game! We had 8 years of Bryce Harper: MLB Rookie of the Year, National League MVP, Home Run Derby Champion. We had Jayson Werth’s 2012 Game 4 walk-off home run. We have seen Hall of Fame caliber play in our ballpark.
But we never made it past the first round of the playoffs.
Expectations were low this season. I remember walking home from school this February when I learned of the news that Bryce Harper had signed with the Phillies. I was crushed. Even though I came to expect Harper to sign elsewhere, the fact he was going to one of our biggest rivals was absolutely devastating. I had lost hope in this team early in the season when they had a 19-31 record through the first 50 games. I thought the team needed new management and would re-enter its building phase. I convinced myself that they were going to focus on developing their young talent like Juan Soto and Victor Robles, but we would not see this team playing in October.
But, they stayed in the fight. They persevered. Now, they are headed to the World Series.
Win or lose, I’m proud of this team for the way they inspired their fans. They showed grit and determination. There is a lesson in showing that hard work and drive pays off even when the odds are stacked against you. Eight year-old “Matt’s Bats” who started this blog would be bouncing off the walls with excitement if he knew that the Nationals would someday, somehow make the World Series and he would be there to see it happen. In truth, 2019 Matt’s Bats is bouncing off the walls with excitement, too. Literal tears of joy and relief were shed on October 5, when the Nationals punched their ticket with a 7-4 win over the Cardinals. (The Cardinals!).
Next week, I will take my seat at Nationals Park to see my favorite team playing in the World Series in Washington.
Before we embark on this journey together, which could bring back the first baseball title to Washington since the invention of sliced bread, I can only think of one thing to say to our new Texas foe:
“Houston, y’all have a problem.”
Memorial Day is supposed to be a special occasion for Americans. It’s the unofficial start of summer, the pool is opened, but most importantly, is a day to remind ourselves and thank the brave service men and women who serve, have served, and sacrificed their lives to protect this country. Some celebrate this day by attending a baseball game on the long weekend, a nice way to spend the day off and honor America’s pastimes, traditions, and values. In Fresno, California, many attended the doubleheader between the Washington Nationals’ triple-A affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies, and the San Diego Padres triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. In between games, however, the jumbotron at Chukchansi Park showed a video which completely took away from the true spirit of Memorial Day.
It was a video montage of generic military-related items, played over a speech delivered by former President Ronald Reagan. However, towards the end, the video cut to a segment featuring “enemies of freedom” (which is disrespectful in its own way). They showed pictures of Kim Jong-Un and Fidel Castro, but at the same time, showed a picture of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the firebrand freshman lawmaker from New York who has become a major figure in the Democratic Party. This video, coming from an organization directly linked with the Nationals’ one, is completely and utterly unacceptable and disrespectful. Here’s why.
First – it’s a baseball game. We use sports as a way to connect with one another. It’s how we create alliances and rivalries between cities, but in the end, it’s all in good fun. Now more than ever, people have been using sports as a way to get away from the tiring headlines each and every day. To forget about what he said and what she said about that policy or person, and to just enjoy yourself while taking in the majesty of sports. Why should politics be brought up at a baseball game, when many attendees are there to relax? And even more importantly, why are the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor league baseball team, trying to influence political beliefs of others by airing a clip dehumanizing a sitting congresswoman?
Secondly – it’s Memorial Day. The holiday isn’t just the time we use to sell cars or mattresses, rather to really reflect on our nation’s heroes and veterans. We don’t use Memorial Day to give our disdain to those whom we have fought against in our history – we use it to honor the lives lost as a result of said conflict. We visit the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington Cemetery, we hold moments of silence to honor those we have lost, and we take the time to reflect on and cherish the values we hold true to as Americans. In no way should Memorial Day be used as yet another time where we break ourselves collectively into political factions; it should be one day a year where we settle our differences and honor active military servicemembers and veterans.
But lastly, and I feel as if this is the most important takeaway from the ordeal, is the lasting divisiveness we currently face in our politics. The current divide between Democrat and Republican in this country is so vast, that there are publications and videos calling a sitting congresswoman an “enemy of freedom,” and that there are people who have the audacity to play the video in front of a large crowd of people at a minor league baseball game ON MEMORIAL DAY. These claims are not just unique to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, too. Many Democrats and Republicans are constantly called such names on a normal basis, and it’s not okay to have that in any civil political discourse. The person who made the decision to play that video is a victim of this vile political atmosphere in which we live in, as are all of us. Obviously, since she was featured in this clip, the far-right organization that created or doctored this video to have it played in Fresno has a grievance with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. But what these people do not realize is that the people of New York’s 14th Congressional District elected her to serve them in office as their congresswoman. What she does in Congress is what she believes is in the best interest
of her constituents, the people whom she represents. I had the honor and opportunity of speaking with her recently, and she seems genuinely concerned about making the quality of life better for the people in her district, one which has a median income of just above $50,000. Any elected official in any part of the country is the same way. While there will always be dissenters to what any elected official says or does, the official is acting in what he or she sees as the most pragmatic and effective way to stimulate the economy, increase jobs, and promote social equality for the people in their district.
This political divisiveness can actually be analogized to as a baseball game. We’re supposed to cheer for one team and boo the other one. If you look back at some of the most important parts of American history like slavery, Jim Crow laws, or the Cold War, this analogy can be applied there. This principle can explain some of the creations during the 21st century, including extreme partisan gerrymandering in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland, the refusal to not hold Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, and, yes, this video played in Fresno. It’s absurd that we have to live in such a time where respect for a member of Congress who hasn’t even passed a single piece of legislation yet is seldom rare to come by. I identify as a Democrat, and although I am unable to vote until 2022, my parents and extended family also identify as Democrats. Although the current President gets an exception for very possibly conspiring with a foreign entity to win an election (as evidenced in the Special Counsel’s report), I or no one in my family would ever call a Republican congressman an “enemy of freedom” for simply having a difference of opinion on some issues.
I’ve never known a political landscape unlike this. I was born in 2004, right in the midst of the Presidential campaign of that year. But just four years earlier, the 2000 election took place, as did the complete chaos that followed it. I’ve seen pictures of George Bush supporters holding signs reading “Sore Loserman” in reference to the Democratic ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, countered by Al Gore supporters holding signs reading “count every vote” while clashing in the streets. I wish that for my future, and for the future of a safe and healthy nation, we stop with all of this fighting. With all of this name-calling and slander. I want to be a politician one day because I feel strongly on many issues and want a platform to make the quality of life better for every American rather than the pockets of corporations. If I were to ever become a politician, than I would try to emulate people like John McCain (once they remove the banner covering his name) and Joe Biden – people who aren’t or weren’t afraid to compromise and have discussions with the other side of the political aisle. I hope that anyone reading this feels the same way, as will the Fresno Grizzlies once they fire the person who played the video on the Jumbotron.
Because in the end, we’re all on the same team. As Americans.
Let’s take a flashback to January 2019. The St. Louis Blues, touted before the season to be a Stanley Cup contender, are struggling mightily and hovering towards the cellar of the league, even reaching dead last in the entire NHL at a certain point. They were dead – fans were calling for their coach, Mike Yeo, to be fired, and rumors were abuzz of potential trades for their top players.
As fans of the Washington Nationals, does this situation sound familiar?
The Blues, after making the necessary moves, ended up going on a hot streak. That St. Louis team, in last place halfway through the season, is now playing in their first Stanley Cup final
since 1970. They overcame all the odds to turn their season around from being another disappointment for St. Louis hockey fans to one which could potentially bring Missouri it’s first ever Stanley Cup.
The truth is that the Nationals are in a very similar situation to that of the Blues in January. Although not dead last in the MLB or in their division (thanks, Marlins), the Nationals have not been good at all. Their bullpen ERA ranks last in the league, and even on days where aces like Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin have outstanding performances, the offense doesn’t pick up the slack. Plenty of Nationals fans are ready for manager Davey Martinez to be fired, and we were collectively disappointed when the MLB app gave us an alert of potential trade destinations for Anthony Rendon last week. The Blues and Nats also have unique post-win traditions, as the Blues play the 1982 song “Gloria” by Laura Branigan following each win, and the Nationals celebrate wins by smashing cabbage in the locker room. Although being in a similar situation as the Blues were doesn’t automatically spell future success, the circumstances are eerily similar. So what can the Nationals do to mimic the success of the St. Louis Blues and flip the script on the season?
The first order of business that the Blues took care of was axing their head coach, Mike Yeo. Yeo was a top coaching commodity, and was picked up by the Blues after he was fired by the
Minnesota Wild. But in St. Louis, Yeo never lived up to the expectations set by management and he had a year and a half of disappointing results. In the Nationals’ case, Davey Martinez was a highly touted managerial prospect who was signed to a three year contract after serving as Joe Maddon’s second-in-command in both Tampa and Chicago. But as in Yeo’s situation, it never panned out for him in Washington and the hire looks like a failed venture. It’s time to fire the head coach, just as the Blues did. Yeo was replaced by Craig Berube, an assistant coach for the Blues who struggled at first but ended up leading St. Louis to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Nationals could make a similar move after firing Martinez by promoting Randy Knorr, a figure who has been with the organization since its founding in 2005 and currently the manager of the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies, to the helm of the Nationals. He is seen as a likely interim manager if and when Martinez is fired by the Nationals, so it isn’t too outlandish to call for Knorr to take over the Nationals.
By the January benchmark when the Blues started to turn their season around, calls were being made to trade their better players – it was looking like the solid core created by St. Louis’s management was going to be disassembled after two disappointing seasons. However, after the coaching change sparked the team, the Blues team stayed the same, no one got traded, and look where they are now. Trading-wise, baseball and hockey are very different sports. Hockey teams have less extensive prospect pools to tap into, and baseball does not allow the trading of draft picks. However, if the Nationals replace Martinez with Knorr, maybe it’s worth leaving the team as it is today to see if the deep core can turn it around. On paper, like the Blues, the Nats should have started this season (and finished last season) as an elite team. The hitting core and starting rotation needs no introduction, with former All-Stars and award winners at almost every position. Even the bullpen shouldn’t be this bad – Sean Doolittle, Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, and Koda Glover have all had stellar seasons in the past. If the Nationals were to follow the Blues’ lead, they should keep the team as is, and maybe the Nats will heat up and have a successful 2019 season.
In the end, will the Nationals’ season turn out like the Blues’ one? Likely not. That being said, the Blues’ Stanley Cup odds were at +6900 in January, and look at them now. Although some would take this season as unsalvageable, if the Nationals take some of the steps outlined here, they might be able to right the ship and go on to succeed for the rest of the season and bring a title back home to Washington.
Editor Note- This post is the second post written by a MattsBats.com kid correspondent. I created this program to allow kids interested in sportswriting learn from the experiences I gained by starting Matt’s Bats. This is an opportunity for them to gain writing experience and show off their impressive work. If you, your child, a family member, or anyone you know may be interested, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
Today’s post comes from Ben B-P of Maryland! He is in sixth grade, and is a HUGE baseball fan who loves the Washington Nationals. He loves playing all sports but especially enjoys baseball and soccer.
Dear Bryce Harper,
You were only 17 when you signed a contract with the Nationals in 2010. I was just 4 years old then, discovering baseball and becoming a Nationals fan. I was learning math by learning the stats of players. I was curious to learn about players and understand the stats.
I remember your first game with the Nationals against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 28, 2012 when you were just 19. You played amazing and your first hit was a double. You also had an RBI that game. I was 6 years old, and I remember yelling #Natitude all the time.
Since 2012, there have been so many exhilarating moments watching you play. I was at Nationals Park on Opening Day in 2013 when you hit two home runs. I was sitting in the left field stands screaming for you.
Every winter, I went to Nats Winterfest and would try to find you. One year I got to do the baseball clinic with you. I had a great hit and ran the bases. When I crossed home plate, I was so happy. I tipped my hat at you and you smiled at me.
I definitely wasn’t there for every moment and big game you had but I would watch highlight videos in slow motion to study your technique. I read sports stories about you. I went to as many games as I could and always tried to sit near you in the outfield and yell for you during the game.
One of my favorite moments was rooting for you at the Home Run Derby last summer. I left my summer camp in North Carolina for 36 hours to be able to go to the Home Run Derby. I was standing as close as I could to the left field. You were down 18-9 with a minute left. My heart was racing and I was stressed. You needed 10 home runs in that minute. I knew you could do it but I was still nervous. You did it! Everyone was shouting. I was so happy that you won the Home Run Derby. You were my favorite player and were playing in your home stadium. I was so lucky to be there for that moment. I will never forget it.
A lot of articles have been written about how you are really disciplined about training and practice. Your dedication and focus is something that can inspire kids to work hard and always practice. In 2012, you were the youngest position player selected for the All-Star Game and you were the NL Rookie of the Year.
Pitchers and teams sometimes are afraid you are going to have big hits to drive in runs or crushing home runs. They don’t always want to face you. In 2016, after being walked and hit by a pitch, you were the first MLB player to get on base 7 times without a single at-bat when the Nats lost to the Cubs 4-3 in 13 innings. That must have been really, really frustrating, but you stayed focused and you knew you had to do what it takes and what your team needs and not just what is most fun. That season alone, you were intentionally walked 20 times. In 7 years, you were intentionally walked 70 times!
Bryce, you have meant so much to me. Whenever I was been afraid I would remind myself that if Bryce Harper were here he could get through it no problem. So I did. If someone doubted me or that I could doing something I would say to myself, “Bryce Harper could do this and he would ignore people who are doubting him so I should also.”
I remember being asked, “Who is someone you look up to? Who motivates you?” I would always say “Bryce Harper.” My teachers, camp counselors, coaches, family, and friends have always known that you have meant so much to me.
I love baseball. There are a lot of chances in a game. Anything can happen at any time. There is strategy in each game and the season is really long. I love a lot of things about baseball. Since I started loving the game you have been my favorite player. I really wished you stayed in DC. Until Thursday afternoon, I believed you would stay. I know you picked the Phillies for a reason, specifically 330 million of them. Most of my friends are really upset and some are calling you a traitor. Other fans, like me, feel good for you and for baseball. I really want to see you play in Philly and I will definitely be at Nationals Park cheering for you when you play.
For the city of DC, I bet most Nationals fans will miss going to Nationals games and cheering for you and trying to get your attention during the game. I even think some Nationals fans are going to miss people heckling you at the ballpark. Whenever someone asks if I am still going to root for you I say, “ That’s a clown question bro!” Good luck with the season… but I am just saying I hope that the Nationals win the division and the Phillies get the wildcard.
After months and months of waiting and anticipation, the inevitable has happened. Yes, finally, after months of speculation, cryptic tweets, and seemingly new rumors every single day, Bryce Harper is a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. The 26-year old who has known no other team but Washington in his six-year career, is now moving to a fierce division rival up I-95 in the Phillies. On Thursday afternoon, it was reported that Philadelphia had signed Bryce Harper to a whopping contract of 13 years and $330 million, without any opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. In this piece, I’ll offer my dissection of the monster deal Bryce just signed and what it means for the Nationals for the future.
Bryce Harper, by signing this contract with the Phillies, became the highest-paid player in the history of American sports, getting $5 million more than Giancarlo Stanton did when he signed his extension with the Miami Marlins in the 2014 offseason. As mentioned before, he will be a Philadelphia Phillie for the next 13 years at a $25 million dollar AAV, or average annual value. In my personal opinion, for the Phillies financially, this is a terrible contract to offer. In thirteen years, Bryce Harper will be 39 years old. I will be 27 years old, and when Bryce Harper made his debut for the Nationals in 2012, I was just 7. 13 years ago, Bryce Harper was 13 years old. Could this contract end up being a waste of John Middleton’s “stupid money”, where he acquires a player who has suffered from inconsistency and rocky patches in the duration of his career? Could this end up becoming another albatross, Bobby Bonilla style contract where the Phillies pay Bryce Harper to underperform in his late thirties? Look at players today like Felix Hernandez and Jordan Zimmermann, who make upwards of $20 million per year to be their respective teams’ #3 starters. The Phillies also have upcoming contracts to give to important players like J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and are almost certainly going to make a run for Mike Trout, a southern New Jersey native and an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan. Is giving north of $300 million a good investment when you have these contracts to potentially sign in the next few years? Also, the Phillies don’t have a deep prospect pool, having only two prospects on the top 100 list, even though they had the first overall selection just a few years prior. Is making a “win now” move worth it when your aging players will have weaker replacements? These questions would obviously be best answered by Phillies owner John Middleton or GM Matt Klentak, but I personally believe that it’s too much of a boom-bust contract without any way out for the team. If this gamble doesn’t work out, the Phillies are in an awful situation, paying Bryce Harper almost $25 million with the inability to trade him or have an opt-out option exercised.
But secondly, and most importantly for folks this side of the Mason-Dixon Line, where does this
leave the Nationals? Many fans, including myself, had picked up the notion that Bryce Harper was leaving and came to view it as inevitable. However, once it becomes real, there’s a sense of sentimentality that comes with the signing. Really? The Philadelphia Phillies? The team whose fans used to flock and flood Nationals Park before you came around, leading to our ballpark earning the moniker “Citizens Bank Park South”? The team whose best pitcher beaned you in the back during your rookie season in an attempt to get you to “show some class”? The fans, who on the dawn of your signing with the team you will don the colors of for the next thirteen years, were making promises to spit in his face the first time he visited Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Giants or Dodgers? That’s a clown move, bro. But while Bryce is getting booed in his brand new home ballpark for the next thirteen years, the Nationals still have a formidable team going into the new season. This will allow Victor Robles to have a starting position in center field to start the season. He will join 20-year old Juan Soto and Adam Eaton in the outfield, which is an exceptional outfield, especially after the loss of a perennial all-star. A Nationals lineup without Bryce Harper will probably look like this-
1- Trea Turner (SS)
2- Juan Soto (LF)
3- Anthony Rendon (3B)
4- Yan Gomes (C)
5- Victor Robles (CF)
6- Brian Dozier (2B)
7- Adam Eaton (RF)
8- Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
9- Pitcher (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, or Joe Ross/Erick Fedde)
Although it is still strange to imagine a Harper-less Nationals team, the team Mike Rizzo was able to create this offseason is pretty impressive. They were able to get Yan Gomes, Brian Dozier, and reliever Kyle Barraclough for very cheap. Some MLB insiders say that the Nationals could also go after Craig Kimbrel, who remains a free agent. That would allow the Nationals to have a bullpen with Kimbrel and Barraclough acting alongside Trevor Rosenthal, Sean Doolittle, and Koda Glover. Imagine going from the last few years of having the bullpen be a liability to the best in baseball in just one year. Nevertheless, although the Phillies and Braves remain threats in the division, the Nationals are incredibly well-rounded and have set up shop as a team which is poised to win its’ first title without its’ former franchise face this year.
The Harper signing sucks. It will be bizarre to see Bryce Harper in a jersey other than a Nationals one, especially a Phillies jersey. It will be bizarre to hear the PA announcer at Nationals Park announce Bryce Harper’s name without the enthusiasm we’ve heard him announce it with for the past 6 years. Everything will take some getting used to. But Bryce Harper is now a Philadelphia Phillie, and the world will keep spinning. In Washington, we will not boo you when you step up to the plate on April 2, we will give you a standing ovation to commemorate your incredible efforts to turn around Washington from a city with a baseball team consistently in the basement of the division into a perennial winner. We love you, Bryce Harper. But, to put it mildly, we just don’t love the Phillies, or Philadelphia.
Editor’s Note- This is the first post written by a MattsBats.com Kid Correspondent. I developed this program to help kids interested in sportswriting learn from the experiences I gained from starting Matt’s Bats. This is a forum for them to gain writing experience and show off their work. If you, your child, or anyone you know may be interested in becoming a Kid Correspondent, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Today’s post comes from Daniel W. of Maryland. Daniel is an eighth grader and has a lifelong love for sports, and for the Yankees in particular.
Recapping the Yankees’ Offseason- By Daniel
The New York Yankees had a busy offseason, but less busy than what was expected. The Yankees are the richest baseball franchise, and are also valued the highest by Forbes. Many media pundits thought the Yankees were going to make a pursuit for big name free agents such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or even improve their pitching by getting Patrick Corbin. However, that didn’t end up happening. Manny Machado recently signed a ten-year contract with the San Diego Padres. Patrick Corbin is one of the newest members of the Washington Nationals. And although the baseball world is awaiting news from Bryce Harper, his name is not being linked to New York.
Although they didn’t get any of the biggest names this offseason, here’s the additions the Yankees made to their roster this winter:
The first big move that they made was on October 31, when outfielder Brett Gardner re-signed a contract for one year, $7.5 million. A couple days later, they re-signed veteran pitcher CC Sabathia to a one year, $8 million contract. This was a good PR move, in my opinion, rather than a good signing move, because they wanted CC to retire as a Yankee.
On November 19, they acquired pitcher James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Justus Sheffield (their #1 pitching prospect), Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams. I think this was a good trade for the Yankees because they got there clear number two starter, and now have a much better “starting three” pitching rotation if they should make it to the postseason.
Next, in December, they resigned pitcher J.A. Happ to a two-year, $34 million dollar contract.
January was the biggest month for the Yankees. It started out by signing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a one-year, $555,000 contract. This is considered a very low contract for someone who was once one of the best players in baseball and a five time All-Star, a two time Gold Glover, and a two time Silver Slugger winner. However, he is very much past his prime, and has been dealing with injuries for a while now. He is more of a rental since the Yankees star shortstop Didi Gregorius is dealing with an injury.
Next, they re-signed reliever Zach Britton to a three-year, $39 million contract. A couple days later, they signed second basemen DJ LeMahieu to a two year, $24 million contract. Signing LeMahieu ended up putting the Yankees out of the mix for Manny Machado, who waited until Spring Training started to sign with the Padres.
Their final move of the offseason was singing reliever Adam Ottavino to a three-year, $27 million contract, adding to their bullpen depth, which arguably has the best closer in baseball, Aroldis Chapman. Chapman had 32 saves last year, while posting a 1.05 WHIP, and a 2.45 ERA. The Yankees’ bullpen also has Zach Britton, how is a two time All Star, who also was the American League Reliever of the Year and saves leader in 2016. Another key player in their bullpen is Dellin Betances, who had 115 strikeouts in 66 games last year. If you add former first round draft pick Adam Ottavino to that mix, you have yourself a dangerously good bullpen.
Overall, I think that the Yankees offseason went well. It didn’t go as well as some would have wanted, as star reliever Dellin Betances noted, but they now arguably have the best bullpen rotation in the league, and they have much better starting pitching, which they desperately needed. For those Yankees fans upset the team didn’t sign Manny Machado as their star third baseman, remember that Nolan Arenado is going to be a free agent next year!