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Tag:Prince Fielder
Posted on: October 9, 2011 9:50 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 10:21 pm
 

La Russa: Fans, media are hoping for altercation

Tony La Russa

By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- The first pitch after Ryan Braun's first-inning homer in Game 1 of the NLCS came in high and hit Brewers slugger Prince Fielder. The crowd booed, home plate umpire Gary Darling warned both benches and then … nothing happened.

For all the pre-series hype about the dislike between the Cardinals and Brewers, there were no fireworks, no scuffles, no words and no fisticuffs. The fact that many expected -- or even hoped -- there may be more, rankled Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"I think there are some fans, or media, that are going to be disappointed if there isn't some crap flying this series, and that's a shame," La Russa said. "I don't want our payers and their players to be egged on, and I don't think they will (react). We're going to play as hard and good against each other as we can."

NLCS

Players from both sides were asked about the tension -- and Darling's warning -- after the game, and it was dismissed.

"Every team you play at the end of the season is going to be a rival -- Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia -- they're going to be  rival because we have to win games," Pujols said. "You guys are the ones who are building everything up, I said that yesterday. You try to pick and fire up this series. I don't think we need the media to fire up this series.  Everyone's going to be ready to play, this is the postseason. Whatever happened in the regular season, you turn the page and you can't let that come into the postseason."

Nobody seemed to think Garcia's pitch was intentional -- and they certainly didn't after he followed the plunking of Fielder with four straight balls to Rickie Weeks and 10 total pitches out of the strike zone.

When asked if he thought Garcia hit him on purpose, Fielder said, "no, not at all."

Still, Darling may have been trying to set a tone, to let both sides know that if anything happened, there would be quick action from the umpires.

"I'm sure the umpire and crew knows it (wasn't intentional), we've had our disagreements. But the guy hits a home run, the next guy gets hit -- I certainly can't fault the umpire," La Russa said. "But you know, you can't go out and argue those things, or you get thrown out. I didn't say anything. What I would have said is, if you watched the way Jaime pitched that whole inning, every fastball he threw was in that same area, out away from the right-hander or in on Fielder. They just looked bad, but he was just trying to get the ball somewhere near the glove. But I don't fault the umpire."

While La Russa had no problem with the umpire, he's not real happy about the constant talk of a rivalry from those covering it.

"I think it's a real disservice to the competition," La Russa said. "I think both teams have talked about with what's at stake here, we're going to compete as far as we can correctly."

Still, Brewers starter Zack Greinke, who said Saturday that the Brewers players didn't like Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, said he did hear Cardinals' players yell at him from the bench, but that's hardly unusual in baseball.

"They're yelling from the dugout some, but most teams do that," Greinke said. "Everyone always makes fun of me grunting when I throw a fastball. It's kind of funny sometimes, but no big deal." 

La Russa, Pujols and others can try to deflect it as much as possible, but there is a palpable dislike between the clubs and a clear difference of approach and philosophy in how the game should be played. While La Russa said things will happen when you play a team 18 times in a season, they seem to happen more to the Cardinals and any team that challenges them in the division, be it Cincinnati in 2010 or Milwaukee this season. It may be the right thing to deny there are any hard feelings, but it's obvious that it's not just the media that feels something could erupt at any moment -- Darling did as well, and that's why there were warnings.

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 7:40 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 7:53 pm
 

Braun, Brewers bash their way to NLCS Game 1 win

Ryan Braun

By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- When the National League's two best offenses match up, what did you expect other than a slugfest? That's what Ronny's Wallbangers delivered in a 9-6 Brewers victory over the Cardinals to take a 1-0 lead in the NLCS.

Hero: If Ryan Braun was under-appreciated headed into this postseason, he's not going to be after it. Not only did he hit a two-run homer in the first inning, he doubled in two more in the six-run Brewer fifth. It's often said the key to beating the Brewers is to not let Braun and Prince Fielder beat you -- it's beginning to be just hope you can survive Braun and hope Fielder doesn't follow with a big blast, like he did in the sixth. In the postseason, Braun is now hitting .500/.577/1.000 and it's pretty safe he's making a case to add a postseason MVP trophy to the one he could win for the regular season.

NLCS

Goat: Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia just didn't have his best stuff, but was able to get some help from the bottom of the Brewers lineup to avoid a big Brewers first inning. However, even after his team staked him to a 5-2 lead, he couldn't hold onto it. He probably should've been taken out earlier (more on that in a minute), but he didn't help himself by giving up a single and a double to start the sixth, only to see Braun and Fielder come up and finish off his game.

Turning point: Tony La Russa had Octavio Dotel warming up in the bullpen ready to come in for the fifth inning. Garcia gave up back-to-back doubles to Corey Hart and Jerry Hairston to lead off the inning, it seemed to be the end of Garcia's night. Except La Russa never got off the top step, even with Braun and Fielder coming up. Both Braun and Fielder were 2 for 8 in their lifetime against the right-handed reliever, with both striking out six times. Braun had a double against him, while Fielder also had a walk. The first-guessing on La Russa's tactic quickly turned to second- and third-guessing when Braun doubled and then Fielder homered -- and then La Russa took out Garcia.

It was over when … In the seventh inning, St. Louis was trailing by three, but had runners on first and third with no outs and Albert Pujols coming to the plate. It was pretty much the dream scenario for the Cardinals -- but Takashi Saito, pitching to his second batter, got Pujols to ground into a double play. Sure, a run scored to make it 8-6, but it took the air out of the Cardinals' hopes. 

Next: Game 2 pits St. Louis right-hander Edwin Jackson against Milwaukee's Shaun Marcum at 8:07 p.m. ET on Monday at Miller Park in Milwaukee. With Sunday's Game 1 win, the Brewers have won all four postseason games played in Milwaukee this year. Jackson pitched twice in Milwaukee against the Brewers this season -- getting rocked for 10 runs (eight earned) in seven innings on Aug. 3 and then giving up just one run in seven innings on Aug.30. Marcum fared worse at home than on the road this season, going 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA at Miller Park and 8-3 with a 2.21 ERA elsewhere.

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 5:09 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 5:16 pm
 

Betancourt bails out Garcia early in Game 1

Jaime GarciaBy C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals stareter Jaime Garcia was on the ropes in the first inning of Game 1 of the NLCS, but survived thanks to Brewers shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Milwaukee took a 2-1 lead over the Cardinals in the first inning of Game 1 on a Ryan Braun homer -- but thanks to the bottom of the Brewers lineup, the damage was limited, as the Cardinals left-hander got out of the inning without further damage, even though he threw just two pitches in the strike zone of the 13 pitches he threw in the inning after the home run.

With Jerry Hairston Jr. on first after a walk, Braun crushed a ball to left-center that traveled an estimated 463 feet. Garcia then hit Prince Fielder with his next pitch, causing home plate umpire Gary Darling to warn both benches. The St. Louis lefty then walked Rickie Weeks on four pitches -- but that could have been strategy to get to Betancourt. With Lance Lynn already warming up in the bullpen for St. Louis, Betancourt took the first pitch for a ball before he swung at five consecutive pitches out of the zone, fouling off the first four before swinging at change up that was high and wide for the second out of the inning.

Here's a look at Betancourt's at-bat from MLB.com's iPad app:

Yuniesky Betancourt 

Carlos Gomez followed by doing his best Betancourt impression, taking a ball and then fouling off two pitches out of the zone before fouling off an honest-to-God strike. He then struck out swinging at another pitch in the zone to end the inning.

Milwaukee had a chance to not only get to Garcia and build a lead, but also make a dent in the Cardinals' bullpen in the first game of the series, running up pitch counts. Instead, Betancourt let them off the hook.

More Eye On Baseball NLCS coverage 

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 5:06 pm
 

Braun: Reyes more likely for Brewers than Prince

By Matt Snyder

The thought of Prince Fielder leaving the Brewers after this season via free agency is certainly secondary at this point in time, as the Brewers square off against the Cardinals in the NLCS. But when the Brewers season does eventually end, all the focus will shift to Fielder's status. And it's very likely the Brewers just don't have enough money to keep him. But that doesn't mean they're out of options. It's entirely possible the Brewers could afford Jose Reyes, and star left fielder Ryan Braun believes he's the more likely target.

"I think there's a better chance we sign [Reyes] than we re-sign Prince," Braun said (New York Post).

Brewers in NLCS
Braun then gushed about the Mets' speedy shortstop.

"[Reyes] is dynamic, man -- he is one of the most exciting players in the game," Braun said (New York Post). "He plays with a lot of energy and a lot of emotion and I enjoy watching him play. He's one of my favorite players to watch. Whenever their games are on, I love watching him, man. He always plays the game the right way. He always plays hard. He runs everything out."

Now, Braun isn't the GM, so this is merely him thinking out loud, but it makes a ton of sense. Yuniesky Betancourt is currently playing shortstop for the Brewers and he can be bought up for $2 million after this season. While Corey Hart has had a good season in the leadoff spot, he's not exactly the prototypical leadoff hitter. If Fielder walks and the Brewers ink Reyes, the top of the order could look something like: Reyes, Hart, Braun, Rickie Weeks. That's a lot of speed and power, and it would certainly help fill the void left by Fielder.

But, again, this is all idle speculation for the time being. Now go enjoy Game 1 of the NLCS.

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 2:15 pm
Edited on: October 9, 2011 8:27 pm
 

Gomez in, Morgan out for Game 1 of NLCS

Carlos Gomez

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Nyjer Morgan was the hero of the game that got the Brewers to the National League Championship Series, but he's not in the Game 1 lineup against Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia. Morgan and Gomez have platooned this season, with Gomez getting the start against left-handed pitchers.

However, Gomez was moved up in the batting order from his usual eighth to seventh in hopes of utilizing his speed more.

"I think it allows Gomey to do some more things when he's on base versus in the eighth spot," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Sometimes you can't run as much. It frees up Gomey a little bit."

The Cardinals are keeping their lineup more or less intact, although that could change at the leadoff spot when Milwaukee uses lefty Randy Wolf. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he may flip-flop Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday against Wolf -- but he may not.

"I don't think there's a big difference," La Russa said. "Berk's been in there every day. As long as you've got Yadi, you've got protection and he's one of the toughst hitters on our club."

Cardinals Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Rafael Furcal SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Jon Jay CF 2 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
3 Albert Pujols 1B 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Lance Berkman RF 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Matt Holliday LF 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 Yadier Molina C 6 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
7 David Freese 3B 7 Carlos Gomez CF
8 Ryan Theriot 2B 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Jaime Garcia LHP 9 Zack Greinke RHP

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Pictured: Carlos Gomez
Posted on: October 8, 2011 6:24 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 2:17 am
 

Cardinals vs. Brewers NLCS preview

NLCS

By C. Trent Rosecrans

MILWAUKEE -- The National League Central is often overlooked or looked down upon -- but not this year, as the NL Central champs have to fight off their divisional rival with the winner headed to the World Series. What makes this matchup even more fun is that these two clubs don't like each other one bit.

There was a dust up late in the season between Milwaukee's Nyjer Morgan and the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter. There was also an accusation by the Cardinals that the Brewers were using different graphics on the Miller Park scoreboards to create an advantage while the Cardinals were batting. And even Saturday, Zack Greinke got the ball rolling by making comments about Carpenter, which got Cardinals manager Tony La Russa upset.

It's a contrast in style -- if only in the surface style. The Brewers are young, brash and loud. The Cardinals sit on their porch and tell them to get off their lawn.

On the field, both teams have some impressive individual pitchers, but got to the playoffs on the strength of their bats. While the Brewers won the National League Central, the two teams split their 18-game series during the regular season. While it won't bring in the ratings like some bigger markets might, it should appeal to true baseball fans.

TEAM INFORMATION

St. Louis Cardinals (host games 3, 4, 5*)
90-72, NL wild card winner
ALDS
: Defeated Phillies in 5 games -- View coverage of NLDS Phillies-Cardinals
Manager
: Tony La Russa
Regular-season batting statistics: .273 batting average (1st in NL), .341 on-base percentage (1st), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 3.78 ERA (8th), 1.31 WHIP (10th), 2.45 K/BB (5th)
Star player: 1B Albert Pujols -- .299/.366/.541, 651 plate appearances, 37 HR 99 RBI

Miwaukee Brewers (host games 1, 2, 6*, 7*)
96-66, NL Central champions
ALDS
: Defeated Diamondbacks in 5 games -- View coverage of NLDS Brewers-Diamondbacks
Manager: Ron Roenicke
Regular-season batting statistics: .261 batting average (3rd), .325 on-base percentage (5th), .425 slugging percentage (1st)
Regular-season pitching statistics: 3.63 ERA (7th), 1.24 WHIP (3rd), 2.86 K/BB (2nd)
Star player: LF Ryan Braun -- .332/.397/.597, 629 plate appearances, 33 HR, 111 RBI

*if necessary

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

Let's break each position down and see which team has the edge…

Catcher: Yadier Molina vs. Jonathan Lucroy
 
Perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game also hit .305/.349/.465 this season … that's Molina if you weren't sure, or weren't watching Game 5 of the NLDS when he threw out Chase Utley at second. Molina seemingly does it all. Lucroy may be best known as the "guy who can't really hit," even if he hit a pretty respectable .265/.313/.391 with 12 homers.

First base: Albert Pujols vs. Prince Fielder
 

You want to talk about a heavyweight battle? You have perhaps baseball's best player versus a guy who had an MVP-worthy season. You also have two of the offseason's premier free agents. Fielder's 27, so who knows exactly who is going to get the bigger contract between him and the 31-year-old Pujols, but there's no question as to who is the better all-around player. Pujols is not only the most feared hitter in the league, he's also a guy who can beat you with his glove and his base running in addition to his bat.

Second base: Ryan Theriot vs. Rickie Weeks
 

Theriot's a much better second baseman than he his shortstop, so the good news is that he's at second base, although he's still not exactly a Gold Glover -- of course, neither is Weeks. Both garner their value with their bats, not their gloves. When healthy, Weeks is probably the better player. But he hasn't looked healthy and he was just 1 for 18 in the NLDS against the Cardinals. At the beginning of the year, this was an easy choice. Today it is, too, but it's the other way.

Shortstop: Rafael Furcal vs. Yuniesky Betancourt
 

Once the Cardinals got Furcal from the Dodgers and he returned healthy, the Cardinals were a much better team. St. Louis has gone 30-20 in games which Furcal has played. Even though his stats are a less-than-impressive .255/.316/.418 with the Cardinals, the threat he brings at the top of the lineup coupled with how much he improves the team's defense, St. Louis is better because of him. The Brewers have Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop.

Third base: David Freese vs. Jerry Hairston Jr.
 

Freese may be one of the more underrated players the Cardinals have. While we all know about Pujols and Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman and even the likes of Molina and Theriot, Freese is a guy you have to watch in that lineup. He hit .297/.350/.441 this season, but injuries have been a problem in his career. When healthy, he's a vital part of the the team's offense after the big boppers. Hairston is a journeyman utility player -- and those are great to have. He's a fantastic role player that has been in some winning situations the last few years, but there's a reason he's moved around both on the field and to different clubhouses. He's always in demand, but he's no longer an everyday player.

Left field: Matt Holliday vs. Ryan Braun
 

If the first base matchup weren't so good, this one would be getting the headlines. Braun would be my choice for the MVP in the National League, and Holliday is one of the more underrated players in the game. Cardinals fans love to hate the guy because of what he hasn't done, while ignoring the production he has put up in a Cardinals uniform. The guy is an absolute monster. However, he's hurt right now -- and like the Theriot vs. Weeks argument, that looms large in this matchup.

Center field: John Jay vs. Nyjer Morgan/Chris Gomez
 

Morgan's the hot name right now for his outrageous and engaging personality. His Game 5 heroics even overshadowed the fact that he hit .188 in the NLDS. As bad as that is, it was better than Jay's .162. Morgan brings enough to the team to give Milwaukee the slight edge. 

Right field: Lance Berkman vs. Corey Hart
 

Hart's another one of those players who gets lost among all the other good players in this series. He hit .285/.356/.510 with 26 homers this season, much of it out of the leadoff spot. But as good of a season as he's had, it pales in comparison to the season Berkman put together. A year after it seemed like he had nothing left in the tank, he was refueled with premium, hitting .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers.

Starting pitching: Jaime Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse vs. Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf
 

Both teams needed to use their best playoff pitchers on Friday, meaning the Game 3 matchup in St. Louis of Carpenter-Gallardo should be a good one. Garcia's been a different pitcher on the road (the 3.33 ERA vs. 2.92 isn't so bad, but batters are hitting a robust .313 against him away from Busch Stadium and .230 in the shadow of the arch). Lohse and Wolf are wild cards, while Greinke should pitch better than he did against the Diamondbacks. Both have their solid points and their question marks. In the end, it may be too close to call.

Relief pitching: Jason Motte and co. vs. John Axford and co.
 

Give credit to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak for going out and improving the team's bullpen at the break. For much of the season, the bullpen was a weak point, but Mozeliak strengthened it during the season and the bullpen has become a strength. Milwaukee also went out and made a bold move for a setup man, picking up Francisco Rodriguez. Both teams have to feel good when their manager goes out to the mound to make a change.

Defense
 

Neither team is going to put on a clinic, but the addition of Furcal has improved St. Louis' defense to the acceptable level. Almost. With Pujols and Furcal they have players who can field the ball, so there's that. The Brewers have Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop

PREDICTION

While these may not be the two best teams in the National Leauge, they certainly make for an intriguing matchup. No matter how many times each team says its letting bygones be bygones, they don't really like each other -- and the national spotlight could turn up the heat. The two teams split their 18-game season series, with each team going 5-4 on their home field. The way the Brewers play at home, they could be tough to beat here. In the end, I see it going the distance and the fact that four of the games are at Miller Park being the biggest difference. Brewers in 7.


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Posted on: October 7, 2011 10:22 am
Edited on: October 7, 2011 1:35 pm
 

NLDS Game 5 preview: Braun to play on holiday

Ryan Braun
By C. Trent Rosecrans

Diamondbacks vs. Brewers, Miller Park, 5:07 p.m. ET on TBS

Diamondbacks Brewers
No. Name Pos No. Name Pos
1 Willie Bloomquist SS 1 Corey Hart RF
2 Aaron Hill 2B 2 Nyjer Morgan CF
3 Justin Upton RF 3 Ryan Braun LF
4 Miguel Montero C 4 Prince Fielder 1B
5 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 5 Rickie Weeks 2B
6 Chris Young CF 6 Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
7 Ryan Roberts 3B 7 Yuniesky Betancourt SS
8 Gerardo Parra LF 8 Jonathan Lucroy C
9 Ian Kennedy RHP 9 Yovani Gallardo RHP

One of the more famous stories in American sports history is that of Sandy Koufax refusing to play on Yom Kippur. Koufax, who is Jewish, decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because it fell on the Jewish holiday, which is also known as Day of Atonement and is the holiest of day of the year in the religion. It is traditionally observed by a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer.

Yom Kippur begins tonight at sundown and perhaps the most visible Jewish athlete in American sports has what could be the biggest game of his life, as Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun prepares for Game 5 of the National League division series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. A win, and Braun will advance in the playoffs for the first time in his career. Braun is a big part of the Brewers' lineup, he's a potential MVP and is hitting .467/.529/.867 with three doubles and a homer, driving in four in the series. 

The game is scheduled to being at 4:07 p.m. local time in Milwaukee, so the game could finish before the scheduled 6:23 p.m. setting of the sun. But that is unlikely to be an issue anyway. The Brewers faced a similar situation in 2007 and the then-rookie Braun said he would play regardless.

"I am half Jewish, and I am not Orthodox," Braun told MLB.com in 2007. "So I never grew up celebrating the holidays. I'm going to play."

In addition to Koufax, another famous Jewish baseball player chose not to play on Yom Kippur, when Hank Greenberg played on Rosh Hashanah, but not on Yom Kippur during a Tigers pennant race in 1934.

What's interesting to me is the reactions -- in 1934 Greenberg was bashed by the Detroit press for putting himself over the team. In 1965 Koufax was praised for sticking to his ideals and being true to himself. In 2011, it's not really an issue for Braun -- and that's OK. I think the interesting thing is the different reactions based on the different times.

I don't for a moment want it to be interpreted as me judging Braun for playing -- it's his decision and his alone to judge. He's doing what he feels is right, and as a non-practicing Jew, why should he step aside? I'm sure someone in the comments will say I'm judging him -- and I'm the last person who can judge another man's religious convictions -- good, bad or indifferent. I've worked on every holiday known to man, from Christmas Day to Arbor Day -- and I usually volunteer. To me, it's just interesting to see the changes we've made in a society as far as this issue is concerned, and use Braun as a way of looking back at Greenberg and Koufax and admiring what they did in their own time.

LINEUPS

Lineups have yet to be released

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Kennedy vs. Brewers: Kennedy was a little worse than average in Game 1, allowing four earned runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings in the Diamondbacks' loss. The big blow was Prince Fielder's two-run, two-out homer that chased Kennedy in the seventh inning. Fielder is 4 for 12 in his career against Kennedy with a double and two homers and six strikeouts.

Gallardo vs. Diamondbacks: Game 1 came down to Gallardo's mastery of the Diamondbacks, as Gallardo held Arizona to four hits and one run, striking out nine over eight innings. Arizona threatened in the first inning of Game 1, but Willie Bloomquist was thrown out at the plate by Ryan Braun for the inning's second out and then Gallardo retired the next seven batters he faced. After asking his only batter of the game in the fourth, he retired his next eight. By the time Ryan Roberts homered in the eighth, Milwaukee led 4-1 and the Brewers were in control. Counting his Game 1 performance, Gallardo is 6-0 with a 1.18 ERA in his career against Arizona.  

NOTES

NLDS Game 5
  • Like the first four games of the series, the roof will be closed for Friday's Game 5 at Miller Park. The Brewers are 29-12 with the roof closed this season (including the first two games of the series) and 30-12 with it open.
  • The home team has won every game in this series, making it the only series in the division series dominated by home teams. The Brewers, of course, had baseball's best home record in the regular season, going 57-24.
  • Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks is just 1 for 15 in the series, tripling in the Brewers' Game 2 victory at Miller Park.
  • Brewers closer John Axford saved both Brewers wins and hasn't allowed a hit in his two innings, walking two.
  • Zack Greinke will be available out of the bullpen if Gallardo struggles, manager Ron Roenicke said during Thursday's news conference.
For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: October 6, 2011 7:35 pm
 

R.I.P: 2011 Washington Nationals

NationalsBy Evan Brunell

Another season gone, another disappointment for 29 teams as one is immortalized forever. Let’s take a look back at 2011 and forward in Eye on Baseball’s R.I.P. series... 

Team name: Washington Nationals
Record: 80-81, third place, 21.5 GB
Manager: Jim Riggleman/Davey Johnson
Best hitter: Mike Morse -- .303/.360/.550, 31 HR, 95 RBI
Best pitcher: Jordan Zimmermann -- 8-11, 161 1/3 IP, 3.18 ERA, 31 BB, 124 K

2011 SEASON RECAP

The Nats were exactly 13-13 at the end of April, and it was a trend that continued all the way through the first half, with the club jumping out to a 46-46 record in the first half. It was an unexpected surge for Washington, who was expected to continue along its growth, but at a slower clip. It was quite the impressive display, especially since the club didn't have Stephen Strasburg and big-ticket signing Jayson Werth struggling to a .215/.319/.362 first half, along with Ian Desmond (.223/.264/.308).

The second half saw the return of Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang along with rebounds from Werth and Desmond. But those improvements didn't show up on the field, with a 34-35 record. In essence the team was exactly the same. Players who fell off in the second-half include Danny Espinosa, Laynce Nix, Livan Hernandez and Zimmermann, who was shut down at the end of August.

2012 AUDIT

The Nationals are in a pretty good position for 2012. Stephen Strasburg is back from Tommy John surgery and looking as electric as ever. Paired with Jordan Zimmermann, Washington has a strong one-two punch in the rotation. Offensively, the team is coming along and with a rebound year from Jayson Werth could be sneaky-good. This is a team on the rise, and the Nats smell blood in the NL East.

FREE AGENTS

Rick Ankiel, CF
Todd Coffey, RP
Alex Cora, IF
Jonny Gomes, OF
Livan Hernandez, SP
Laynce Nix, OF
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Chien-Ming Wang, SP

OFFSEASON FOCUS

  • Bring back Davey Johnson as manager. He wants to come back and there's no reason not to keep Johnson. The team seemed to respond to him and he has enormous cachet. Plus, and this is just speculation, but he would probably sign a cheaper deal than any of the other big-name managers available.
  • Sign Prince Fielder. While Albert Pujols would be a great get, Fielder is younger and frankly, more gettable. It would be the splash Washington needs to make the fan base perk up and put the club in prime position to contend in the next several years. The Nats have long said that the money will be there when it's time to compete. Owner Ted Lerner time to step up. The club will have limited flexibility if there is no payroll bump. If Lerner is miserly with his money, the rest of the moves here still should occur, but Adam LaRoche would simply remain as first baseman.
  • What to do with incumbent first baseman LaRoche if the team can sign Fielder? Tough call. His trade value is near zero and coming off the bench isn't a great idea. Washington either needs to bite the bullet and chew up the remaining $9 million on his deal ($8 million due in 2012, $1 million buyout in 2013 on a $10 million mutual option), or trade him in a swap of hefty contracts.
  • In the R.I.P. piece for the Tampa Bay Rays, I said that the Rays need to trade B.J. Upton to the Nats for Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina. (Washington would likely also need to give up a solid minor-leaguer.) This would fulfill Washington's need for a center fielder, and Upton could fetch some nice compensatory picks if he has a great year and departs town as a free agent.
  • Moving Desmond allows the Nationals to put second baseman Danny Espinosa back at his natural spot of shortstop, and reports suggest Espinosa could be an even better fielder than Desmond. To fill the second-base vacancy, Washington can promote Stephen Lombardozzi.
  • The rest of the team's needs have to be fulfilled for small money, short years or through internal replacements from the minors with Upton, Fielder and Jayson Werth occupying a big chunk of payroll. The bench needs some fortification on offense. Adam Kennedy, Jerry Hairston Jr., Kelly Johnson, or Mark DeRosa would all make sense.
  • Extend Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman is one of the best third baseman -- no, one of the best players -- in the game. He's a free agent after 2013, and the Nats simply cannot let him go.
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