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Federal Reserve’s Minor League Players Of The Week: 5/11

Batter of the Week – Steven Souza, 3B, Hagerstown


When the Nationals drafted Souza with their third round pick in 2007, they probably didn’t think he would be hitting .222/.317/.328 over his first three professional seasons. But like a lot of high school picks, the selection was made based on potential. Souza’s skillset and size (6’4, 195 pounds) led many to believe that he would eventually turn into a middle of the lineup type of hitter. Souza is finally living up to some of that potential this season.

At 21 years old and in his second season at Hagerstown, Souza is hitting .287/.368/.530. He has eight doubles, four triples, and four home runs and is finally starting to show some of that power that those who drafted him believed he would develop. In seven games last week (one as a pinch hitter), he had four multi-hit games, finishing the week 9 for 23 (.391).

In Sunday’s game against Augusta, he came up to the plate as a pinch hitter with runners on second and third and the game tied. He came through with a deep fly ball to center field that scored the winning run, and in a way demonstrated his improvements this season. For his career with RISP, he had been a .232 hitter, but this season he is hitting .353 in the same situations. He leads Hagerstown in triples, home runs, total bases, slugging %, and OPS. He has been batting third for the Suns for most of the season and has been thriving in the role. Two issues still remain in his game though. First, his patience at the plate is still a work in progress. He has 35 strikeouts to only 12 walks, but has still managed to maintain a .368 OBP.

The other issue is where he fits in on the field in the long term. Formerly a shortstop, Souza was moved to 3B because of his size and the amount of errors that he has racked up. In the previous two seasons, he has had at least 30 errors and already has 9 for this season. It seems likely that a move to first base or the outfield may eventually be in his future, especially given the fact that the “hot corner” is already locked up for the long term on the MLB team. With his bat though, he would be able to fit in a role as a 1B or corner outfielder.

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Predicting the Washington Nationals’ Playoff Chances with Accuscore 5/11

As we will do each week throughout the season, we will today take a look at Accuscore’s playoff forecaster to see how the previous weeks games influenced the division’s playoff race. The Nationals tremendously improved their chances to make the playoffs last week as the club went 4-2.

With this their projected playoff chances jumped from 10.5 percent to 23.8 percent. Disappointingly, their chance to win the division only grew 4 percent to 10.1 percent as the Phillies continue to play great baseball.

Stephen Oh breaks down the NL East:

“Philadelphia was 5-2 which included 3 quality wins over St. Louis.  The Phillies have just a 2 game lead over the Nationals but are still an overwhelming 82 percent favorite to take the NL East.

Washington is now projected for a very strong 83 win season, and they are now a legitimate Wild Card contender.  A 6-6 road record is sixth best in the National League.  The Mets are still at under 10 percent in playoff chances because they have not shown the ability to win on the road.  They are 4-8 this season and this past week dropped 2 of 3 road games in Cincinnati.”

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Kennedy, Zimmerman Power Washington Nationals to 3-2 Win Over New York Mets

After his previous start that yielded six runs and five walks to the Atlanta Braves in 5.1 innings, many thought that Washington Nationals rookie starter Luis Atilano may be starting to unravel.

He shut those detractors up last night, however, as he threw 5.1 shutout innings helping the Nats topple the New York Mets to improve to second place in the National League East.

Deception was the key to Atilano’s success Monday night, as young right-hander improved to 3-0 by earning the win on his 25th birthday.

In his previous start against Atlanta, where he got chased out of the game in the fifth, Atilano only threw one changeup that made an opposing pitcher swing and miss. Monday he threw it five times for a swing and miss, while also adding two whiffs from his slider and one from his curveball.

His average pitch speed was slower than his previous start, registering around the mid-80s the entire game, but his stuff was clearly better as evidenced by the Mets only being able to muster five hits in five innings.

At the plate the Nationals were charged by back-to-back homers in the third inning from Adam Kennedy and David Wright which put the club up 2-0 in Queens. Ivan Rodriguez chimed in with four hits on the night, including an RBI single in the top of the eighth which proved to be the winning run as the Mets packed on a run in the seventh and a second run in the bottom of the ninth. All of Rodriguez’s hits on the night were singles.

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Series Preview: Nats Return to the Big Apple


After taking two of three from both the Atlanta Braves and the Florida Marlins, the Washington Nationals (17-14) head north to face the New York Mets (17-14) for the second time this season.

The two squads are tied for second in the NL East, two games behind the two-time defending National League Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

The Nationals got the better of the Mets the first time around. Willy Taveras drove in all four runs in a 4-3 victory and Josh Willingham plated all five the next day in a 5-2 win.



While the Nationals have been very consistent, never winning or losing more than three games in a row, the Mets results have been far more varied. Through just 31 games, the Mets have already rolled off an eight game winning streak and a four game losing streak. However, the team appears to be leveling out. New York has gone 5-5 over their past 10 games.

With all the vitriol coming from the New York media, you would think the Mets were the worst team in baseball.

After starting the season 4-8, numerous outlets questioned whether the Mets had the required pieces to compete in the vicious NL East. Much of this skepticism was directed toward a young, lightly touted pitching staff that had yet to live up to its perceived potential.

Though ace Johan Santana was viewed as a sure thing and Oliver Perez had limited expectations after struggling through the 2009 season, John Maine, John Niese, and Mike Pelfrey received much of the scorn. The young trio has largely dispelled the initial worries by posting a 6-3 combined record.

Pelfrey has been the star of the bunch, and the best pitcher on the team, going 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 25 Ks.

If the Mets get sustained performances from these three arms, and Santana continues to round into form, the New York Mets should remain in the division race throughout the season.

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NL East Update: Jamie Moyer Breaks Records, Rod Barajas Walks Off

Jamie Moyer, at 47 years old, became the oldest player in the history of baseball to pitch a complete game shutout, beating the Braves 7-0.

Moyer probably has another five years left in him. He already knows how to pitch without blowing people away and barring any injuries, his arm doesn’t seem like its going to break down any time soon…for the average pitcher, that probably would have happened fifteen years ago.

Moyer has now thrown shutouts in 1986, 2006, and 2010. The Phillies are looking good as usual, with a new player stepping up every night. Jayson Werth continues to hit everything thrown to him and has been the Phillies MVP so far this season.

Fish Stripes tells us why the best has yet to come for Anibal Sanchez.

I’ve never really considered the idea that throwing a no-hitter early in a pitchers career would be bad for them in the long run. And I don’t really agree with the idea that the reason why it would be bad is because it would be too taxing on a young throwers arm. I could see how it would affect them mentally, though.

Having such early success in the beginning of their career and then never being able to put it all back together, it can completely mess with a pitchers mind. The only thing that has been holding Sanchez back from making any further progress has been injuries, so Florida would really like to see him have a breakout year in 2010.

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Stephen Strasburg Makes His Triple-A Debut, Smokes Gwinnett

Washington Nationals top prospect Stephen Strasburg successfully completed his first Triple-A start Friday night in front of a sold-out Syracuse Chiefs crowd.

The 21-year-old simply dominated the Gwinnett Braves on the mound, and even drove in two runs at the plate. Dave Shenin wrote in Nationals Journal:

“Props to the Syracuse crowd. With two outs in the sixth, and a 3-2 count on Gregor Blanco, most of the fans at the stadium were on their feet, recognizing this would be Strasburg’s final batter. After Blanco fouled off a 95-mph heater, Strasburg froze him with an 81-mph curve, then bounded off the mound as the crowd roared.

This was a simply dominant performance by the phenom: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K. His ground-out to fly-out ratio was 12-to-0. He threw 65 pitches, 45 for strikes. And to reiterate: the only ball to leave the infield was the weak grounder up the middle by Blanco in the fourth.”

Analysis: So much for that “rocky” final Double-A start for the future ace. Strasburg asserted himself again as the hands-down best talent in the minor leagues tonight as he made the Gwinnett Braves look like an overmatched Little League team for six innings Friday night.

What’s getting scary is that as the competition he faces gets more difficult, he seems to get better. His numbers in the Arizona Fall League were very good but not spectacular. In Double-A, he was blowing past batters at amazing rates, and tonight he didn’t let any balls leave the infield in the air.

Strasburg is improving because he is implementing and mastering new pitches. Often forced to stick to his fastball and curve/slider while at San Diego State, Strasburg has unveiled a nasty changeup and a two-seem fastball that seems to be inducing ground balls better than even the top ground ball pitchers in the majors.

While the Nationals certainly wish they could have the future star in their rotation now to help them compete, Nats fans will be thanking Mike Rizzo a few years down the road when the club has one more year of control over the potential superstar.

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Washington Nationals Bulletin: Bullpen Fails as Nats Lose 4-2 to Florida Marlins

Behind a strong outing from starting pitcher Craig Stammen the Nationals were able to grab a 2-1 lead at the end of the sixth. It was short-lived.
Jorge Cantu, who had been held hitless in his previous 19 at bats, launched a one-out homer to deep left centerfield to tie the game at two-two. Enter Brian Bruney in the eighth and the wheels fell off as the one-time closer hopeful simply could not throw strikes. The hard throwing righty put runners on base who eventually scored off of a single and a sac-fly to give the Marlins a final 4-2 lead.
Stammen rendered no decision despite pitching 6.2 innings of dominating baseball. The Marlins only mustered four hits and drew no walks while scoring one earned run (a homer), and one unearned. Stammen also struck out eight batters, a career-high for the 26-year-old. He was succesful by keeping Marlins batters off balance with a strong slider/curveball combination.
Ryan Zimmerman went 2-4 on the night as the club only managed to muster two runs on six hits and two walks. Ivan Rodriguez went 0-4 for the first time of the season tonight in the Nationals loss.
“After a thrilling come-from-behind win last night, the Washington Nationals opened up their three-game set with the Florida Marlins in the loss column, defeated 4-2, before 20,161 at Nationals Park.

“Despite a solid night by Washington starter Craig Stammen, his bullpen mates could not hold off their opponents. With the score tied at two in the eighth inning, Brian Bruney – who had come into the game in relief of Stammen in the seventh – continued a string of erratic and uneven performances.”

“With the game tied at two at the start of the seventh inning, the Nationals gave the ball to Brian Bruney, who they acquired as a setup man and possible closer in the offseason but whose control problems have bumped him several rungs down the bullpen hierarchy. Bruney did what he’s done too many times this year; walk hitters.

“His three walks, plus two hits, in 1 1/3 innings led to the Marlins taking the lead for good and the Nationals falling back within a game of .500.”

Washington Nationals lose late to Florida Marlins as Brian Bruney Struggles – Adam Kilgore, Washington Post

“Stammen was on a roll, until he wasn’t. He hung a 1-2 curveball to Jorge Cantu, a pitch Stammen chose because he had struck out Cantu swinging at one earlier. Even as Cantu swung, Stammen pounded his thighs with his fists. He knew. Cantu unloaded and crunched a home run over the left-center field wall. Stammen didn’t survive the inning after a triple by Cody Ross.”

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How Scott Olsen Took the No-No To the 8th in the Nats Win

Willie Harris’s bottom of the ninth walk-off single wasn’t one of the most exciting moments of the Nationals 3-2 victory last night. No, that came from the Nationals starting pitcher, Scott Olsen.

Olsen’s previous two starts had been an indicator that perhaps the 26-year-old starting pitcher was bound for a strong comeback this season. But no one expected what happened last night.

The Nationals left-hander, who had been left off the opening day roster, took the mound in the top of the eighth after having struck out eight Braves batters.

Olsen was miles away from the pitcher he was in Florida, from being the hurler who had been left behind in favor of a rookie who bombed his final three spring training starts.

With that all behind him now, he took the mound without anyone (aside form Mark Zuckerman ) willing to state out loud the importance of the next six batters, but with everyone knowing in the back of their mind he had a strong chance to become the first Washington National to throw a no hitter.

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John Lannan Out, Jason Marquis Coming Back for Washington Nationals?

The Washington Nationals’ nominal ace, John Lannan, will miss at least one start with soreness in his left forearm and elbow.

Lannan first recognized the pain in his April 21 start against the Colorado Rockies, a game in which he threw 107 pitches and surrendered four runs on 11 hits in six innings of work. The opening day starter has struggled so far this season, going 1-2 with a 6.34 ERA in six starts. He is expected to return on May 13 at Coors Field against those same Rockies.

The question then becomes who replaces Lannan at least for the time being. Jason Marquis, who has not pitched since April 18 due to elbow soreness of his own, suggested that he would be ready to return to the team in time to make Lannan’s scheduled start.

Unfortunately for him, both general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Jim Riggleman have disagreed, expressing extreme skepticism with regard to his health and preparedness. It seems far more likely that the team calls up a minor leaguer—likely J.D. Martin—than turning to either Marquis or a reliever (Miguel Batista) for a spot start.


The Nationals have been devastated by injuries to starting pitchers. Off of the 40-man roster, the team currently has Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang, Garrett Mock, and Jason Marquis on the disabled list.

Stephen Strasburg should join the major league club in the next month or two; however, the Nationals need someone to start every fifth day for that time. With Luis Atilano having recently been called up, look for Martin to join the rotation and make a few starts as needed.

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Should the Washington Nationals’ Ivan Rodriguez Be Batting Second?

Ivan Rodriguez continues to defy the odds. 

At the age of 38, few thought he would be a productive everyday player in the majors in 2010. However, out of the gates, Rodriguez is leading the majors in hitting and despite speculation of an upcoming fall to reality, he has kept on hitting.

Entering Friday’s game he is batting .405/.432/.514. While that kind of production is likely unsustainable, the Nationals need to try and take more advantage of it while it’s here.

What Rodriguez has done 2010 to help spark his resurgence is create a new approach at the plate.

With 305 career home runs, he is one of the all-time best power hitting catchers. However, after failing to hit 15 homers or more home runs in any season since 2004, he realized that it is no longer part of his game.

As a result we have seen a Ivan Rodriguez more focused on making strong contact and swinging for singles, not the fences. This can be reflected in his .108 ISO which is the lowest he’s posted since 1992.

Without swinging for the fences, Rodriguez has been able to cut his strikeout percentage to 12.2, the lowest it’s been since 1996. This has helped his increased batting average as he is no longer trying to drive pitches but trying to place them.

The result has been simple, he’s gotten on base better than any player on the Nationals.

Despite his outstanding output, Rodriguez hasn’t been able to produce it into runs produced.

Combining to drive-in and score 22 runs, he ranks only fifth on the Nationals line-up in producing runs. Often batting in the sixth slot, he’s getting on base in front of people who are not hitting well enough to drive him in, and while he’s hitting behind some very good hitters, he’s not driving the ball well enough to hit in the big boppers.

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