Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Chien-Ming Wang pitched one inning yesterday in the Florida instructional league.
1. With Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels still to come, how on earth is anyone going to beat the Phillies this month?
2. How on earth can the Nationals ever get to a point where something like that becomes possible?
The short answer to No. 1: The only NL team I can see even having a chance of beating the Phillies is San Francisco, and only if Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez are equal to or better than Philadelphia's Big Three.
The longer answer to No. 2: The only way the Nationals are ever going to find themselves in a position to do something like that is to keep adding power arms to their system, hoping several emerge as top-notch starters at the major-league level.
At the moment, there are only two legitimate power arms in their big-league rotation: Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. Strasburg won't be back until next September, at the earliest, and there are no guarantees what kind of pitcher he'll be when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Zimmermann certainly has the necessary tools to dominate a big-league lineup. We'll see if he can put them all together in 2011 after having his last two seasons derailed by the same Tommy John surgery.
Other than that, the Nats have no big-league power arms in their rotation. I love Livan Hernandez as much as anybody (maybe to a fault) but he ranked 92nd in the majors this season in strikeouts despite ranking 24th in innings pitched. John Lannan also can be an effective pitcher, but he doesn't miss a lot of bats, either.
Those kind of innings-eating control artists are vital to a rotation to get through a 162-game season, and often they help a club reach the postseason. But once October rolls around, you have to have at least one (and probably two or three) power arms who can dominate a game on their own without the help of their defense.
We've seen it time and again over the years. What kind of pitchers come up biggest in the postseason? Power pitchers. Pedro Martinez. Randy Johnson. Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett. Chris Carpenter. CC Sabathia. Cliff Lee (who doesn't throw as hard as the other guys but still strikes out a bunch of batters). And now, Roy Halladay.
The Nationals made a point this year to draft pitchers with power arms, among them Sammy Solis and A.J. Cole. Both guys are currently pitching in the instructional league in Florida and have been enjoying success so far. We'll see how long it takes before we see them on the big stage, though.
In the meantime, the Nationals have to hold out hope that Strasburg comes back 100 percent next September, that Zimmermann makes an important career step next season and that they can somehow land the "No. 1 starter" Mike Rizzo insists he's after this winter. The guy I would look real closely at: Javier Vazquez. Yes, he struggled with the Yankees this season and isn't in their playoff rotation. But he's always been a better NL pitcher than AL pitcher, and he's always been a high-strikeout guy (career 8.1 K's per nine innings).
Some other news, notes and thoughts on this Thursday morning...
-- Chien-Ming Wang finally pitched in an actual baseball game yesterday. He started the Nationals' instructional league game against the Tigers and pitched one scoreless inning, with the leadoff batter reaching on a walk, then getting thrown out trying to steal second by Jesus Flores. His fastball, according to my spies down in Viera, topped out at 87 mph. That's still not where it needs to be for Wang to pitch in the big leagues again, but it's progress from where he was when he signed last February. The Nats will have to decide by early December whether to tender Wang a contract and thus go to arbitration with him. If they do, they'd be required to pay him at least $3.5 million (75 percent of his 2009 salary) and I can't see that happening. The club could, however, non-tender him and then re-sign him to a lesser deal with incentives, just as they did last winter with Scott Olsen.
-- Several of you have asked me about the possibility of Adam Dunn qualifying only as a Type B free agent this winter, not Type A as everyone assumed. As best as I can tell, it is a possibility, though not a certainty. The formula used by MLB (through the Elias Sports Bureau) is complicated and is based on stats over multiple seasons in comparison to guys who play similar positions. First basemen are lumped in with outfielders and designated hitters, so there are a lot of candidates in the pool. If Dunn does wind up as a Type B and if the Nats offer him arbitration and if he rejects it and signs with another club, the Nats would only get one supplemental draft pick between the first and second rounds as compensation for losing him. If Dunn is a Type A free agent, the Nats get two picks (either the signing team's first- or second-round pick, plus a supplemental pick).
-- Lot of people upset at the notion the the Nationals could relocate their spring training site to Arizona, as suggested yesterday by Stan Kasten during his final press conference as team president. I wouldn't get too worked up about it. The chance of the Nats moving to Arizona is incredibly remote. No East Coast team currently trains out there, and there's good reason for that: Owners like to give their fans the ability to drive to Florida to see their team play every spring. I think this is more of a negotiating ploy than anything. If either the folks in Viera or another Florida community think they might lose the Nats to Arizona, they might feel pressured into sweetening their deal. Either way, I don't see the Nats moving out of Viera for at least a couple of years.