The Miami Marlins split their previous series with the Milwaukee Brewers, and once again the team will face off against the division-leading Washington Nationals for a three-game weekend set in Washington. Is it pleasant to see the best team in the National League for what seems like the millionth time this month? No, no it is not. But it is the perils of playing in the best division in the NL and being the worst team in it. Ugh, this 2012 season.
Apologies once again, but in the interest of time, I figured I would just share the Q&A done with Patrick Reddington of the SB Nation Nationals blog Federal Baseball. Patrick was kind enough to answer my questions and send some of his own, which you will see shortly. Here is what he had to say on a number of Nationals topics.
1) Stephen Strasburg Shutdown Day is coming soon. What is the latest on that situation?
Strasburg's been informed and the team announced its decision last week. Two more starts. Tonight against the Marlins and next Wednesday in NY and then Strasburg's done for the season at around 168.0 IP, which is just about what the reports/rumors have said from the start. Davey Johnson talked about Strasburg making 2-3 more starts a week or so back then had a conversation with Stephen on the way home from the last series in Miami. After Johnson talked to the press about it, they had a sitdown with Strasburg that also included D.C. GM Mike Rizzo and pitching coach Steve McCatty and tried to explain why they were doing what they were doing. Though none of Strasburg's comments from the meeting were quoted anywhere, he was reportedly not happy, thought he could keep going and to paraphrase Davey Johnson's take on the outcome, hated his manager, pitching coach and GM a little more after the meeting, but he reportedly accepts the decision (don't know that he had a choice), and is going to make his last two starts and then shut it down for the year.2) How much do you think the Nationals are losing by not having Strasburg for the playoffs?
The Nationals planned on Strasburg being shut down early from the start, which is at least in part why they went out and added Edwin Jackson and why they kept John Lannan around when they likely could have gotten something in return for the left-hander. I think if asked most Nationals fans would prefer to have Strasburg on the mound as the Nats finish the regular season and barring a big letdown make the first post season appearance by a team from the nation's capital since 1933, but there's [surprisingly?] been little resistance from the Nationals fanbase, though there is some obviously. Seems like most people who've watched Strasburg's development from the start and saw the process with Jordan Zimmermann last year are accepting of the decision. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are going to be tough for any opponent and I haven't broken it down again since a local writer did last week, but even without Stras the Nationals have one of, if not the best team ERAs in the NL, so he'll obviously be missed, but the pitching is still strong and what you've heard from the pitchers recently is a bit of resentment that some people are writing them off and saying they can't win without Strasburg, so if they can turn the loss into a bit of motivation that can only help.
3) Marlins play-by-play commentator Tommy Hutton has been singing the praises of Adam LaRoche as a top five NL MVP candidate. Obviously that is not the case, but how important has he been this season for the Nats?
LaRoche has been a huge boost to the Nationals offensively and defensively in year two of his deal after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. 27 doubles, 29 HRs, a .270/.343/.511 line, he's been one of the more productive first baseman in the league this year (+3.1 fWAR tied for 5th in MLB), but more importantly for the Nationals he's stabilized the infield defense dramatically. I lost count a long time ago of the number of picks he's made on short throws at first, the number of times he's effortlessly reached across the basepath into foul territory to catch wide throws to first, etc. The Nationals are a dramatically improved team defensively and at least in the infield he's played an important role in bringing about that change. I admittedly underestimated his value before he joined the Nats and though I agree that talking about him as an NL MVP candidate is a bit of stretch, he's been huge for the Nationals.
4) Who would you say is the team's offensive MVP this year?
Ian Desmond. If he had managed to stay healthy all season there would be no doubt in my mind, but even with the time he's missed, I think Desmond's really had a breakout season this year offensively (and his once-shaky defense has improved too). 27 doubles, 21 HRs, a .288/.325/.508 line, a team-leading +4.2 fWAR, 126 wRC+ which is the best among the regulars. Desmond's really emerged as a team leader and led the offense in the absence of Ryan Zimmerman for a time (both when he was sidelined and when he was not producing before he got a cortisone shot in his shoulder that turned his season around), Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and more. Desmond's been a steady offensive threat and he's put together his best season yet.
5) The Nationals are likely to lock up either the top or second spot in the National League playoffs. Would you rather face one of the Wild Card winners like Atlanta or St. Louis or the NL West winner (at this stage the San Francisco Giants)?
Just going on head-to-head numbers this year, and familiarity, I'd say Atlanta. The Nats are 10-5 against the Braves and might have a bit of an edge over them mentally this year. They're also 3-1 against the Cardinals and 5-1 against the Giants but those things go out the window when it's a short series. The Nationals have played really well against Atlanta over the last couple of years and there's a nice rivalry there that would really make for an exciting series.
I'd like to thank Patrick for the answers again. Here's a preview of his questions to me and what I had to say about the Marlins.
1) Obviously the first year with Ozzie Guillen as manager didn't go as the team seemed to think it would but have you seen any positive developments with him on the bench? Can you give just an overall feel of what someone following the Marlins thinks of him as a manager?
I think Marlins fans are mixed on Ozzie Guillen as a manager. Some undoubtedly love his fire, though he has been more tempered this season due to the Fidel Castro controversy earlier in the year. Others are less amused by his too-traditional stance on a number of managerial moves, including his previous insistence on sticking with Heath Bell in the closer role. Overall, I would say year one of the Guillen regime was neither helped nor hurt by his presence, making the whole hiring a $2.5 million wash this season. It will be interesting to see if Guillen will change his stripes next season to meet his previous form.
Check out more of those answers over at Federal Baseball. Thanks again to Patrick, and good luck to both teams in the series!