It's great to be back. After a horiffically mis-understood incident, I'm glad to be back here on Fish Stripes. Before we get going with the series preview, I would like to apologize to everyone, especially Mr. Dobbs, who was offended by my show of affection, which apparently means something different in your culture. I will never do such a thing ever again. Moving on...
There's no rest for the weary as the Marlins are in the nation's capitol today to kick-off their first two game series of the year against the Nationals.
The matchups for the series should look like this:
Game One (tonight): Willis (2 - 0) vs. Ohka (1 - 1)
Game Two (tomorrow): Moehler (0 - 0) vs. Hernandez (1 - 1)
Now that that's laid out, let's start the interview with Youppi (and by the way, even if the Nationals have a new mascot, we here at Fish Stripes will refuse to acknowledge him/her/it and we will continue to maintain our relationship with Youppi).
: When we last spoke, Youppi, the Nationals had officially come into being, but they hadn't had a home game yet. Now that they've completed their opening series against the Diamondbacks and the Marlins are coming to town to start the Nats first divisional home series, does the loss of the Expos feel more final?
: Yes, and no. Yes, it's obviously clear that the Expos are gone now and that there won't be any baseball in Montreal this year. But I - and I'm not alone - am not looking at this as the end of professional baseball in Montreal.
Encore Baseball Montreal was originally formed to help keep the Expos and major league baseball in Montreal. Obviously, the organization was not successful in achieving their original goal, but since the Expos officially left town, the Encore organization has redefined itself with the revised mission of maintaining the history and tradition of baseball in Quebec with the hopes of eventually luring major league baseball back to Montreal.
That is one factor that I believe is often overlooked. Baseball did not begin in Montreal in 1969 when the Expos joined the National League. Montreal had a long history in professional baseball, including playing a role in Jackie Robinson's development, as he played in the minors for the Montreal Royals before joining the Dodgers at the major league level. In the short term, there have been discussions of having a minor league team relocate to Montreal.
Ultimately the goal is to have major league baseball back in Montreal. If we're able to preserve the history of the game and maintain interest, I believe a team will come back to our great city. Keep in mind that Montreal is now the largest city - in terms of population - in North America to not have a major league team.
: Very interesting, Youppi. But let's get back to the current season and the upcoming series. Since the Nationals left South Florida, they've been on a pretty good run.
: Absolutely. While they lost the first game in Atlanta, the Expos, err, Nationals enter this series on a five game win streak. And I notice that you've avoided the fact that the Nats enter this series in sole possession of first place.
: Yes, Youppi - that's true. But the Nationals have been outscored (61 - 57) for the year. Unless they start outscoring their opponents more regularly, I don't think they're going to hold onto the division lead.
: Who has surprised you the most so far this year?
: Far and away it has to be Vinny Castilla. While we expected great defense and leadership from Vinny, the offense he's provided has been outstanding. Inevitably, he'll cool off, but as of right now he's hitting well over .400 and Castilla is leading the league in Lee Sinnis' Runs Created Above Average with 12 (going into yesterday's game).
: So you read Lee Sinnis's ATM reports?
: Yes, I do. Any sabermetrically inclined fan should sign up for his free email service. I even have his sabermetric encyclopedia on CD.
: I whole-heartedly agree. Tell us about Brad Wilkerson. It seems that he's becoming the face of the Nationals.
: He certainly is. The media coverage he's gotten is incredible - and well deserved. What's often lost about Wilkerson is that he's the epitome of a team player. While he's better suited as corner outfielder and a middle of the order guy, because of the team's needs - due to injuries, lack of depth, and poor performance of other players - Frank Robinson has asked him to lead off and play center field. He's handled it admirably.
Last week he hit for the cycle, obviously the first time that someone had done that in a Nationals uniform (not counting the team from the 1800s of course, I have no idea if one of their players ever accomplished the feat).
: The Nationals are counting on a lot of young and/or lesser known players this year. One such player who we'll probably see more of this series than last is Ryan Church. What can you tell us about him?
:Church is a good young player who will hopefully see a lot of time in center this year. I say hopefully in center, because if Church is there, it likely means he'll have earned his way into the position, and Wilkerson can be moved back to one of the corners.
Church is with the big club mainly because of his defense. It's never been an issue for him. What is in doubt, is his offense. His weakness tends to be chasing balls on the outside half of the plate. Pitchers know that, so they work him away - even off the plate. Church has shown weakness in chasing these pitches. In order for him to earn a more regular role in the majors, he'll have to be more disciplined in his approach at the plate.
: Thanks for the insight Youppi. So that we don't make this interview longer than the series itself, let's end it here. We'll get together again before the next time the Marlins and Nationals meet, which isn't until the first weekend in June.
: Sounds good. Good luck until then.