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Winter Ball

Last day of January. Freezing here in Washington. Pitchers and catchers report two weeks from tomorrow. And Saturday ... the biggest games of the winter begin.

The Caribbean Series, featuring two teams from the Dominican Republic as well as a team from Venezuela and another from Mexico, will begin in Santo Domingo, D.R. Tigres del Licey, the storied team which fired Nationals' third base coach Tim Tolman as its manager just a couple weeks ago in the middle of the Dominican playoffs, will feature one Ronnie Belliard as one of its infielders. Belliard, according to Manny Acta, is a winter ball legend in his home country, playing a mean third base a lot of the time.

According to the latest stats I can find - and these things are tough to come by - Ronnie's hitting just .195 in 22 games for Licey, with three doubles, a homer and nine RBI in 82 at-bats. Others with ties to the Nats who have appeared for Licey this winter: Jose Guillen (one game), D'Angelo Jimenez (.220 in 100 at-bats), Elijah Dukes (.236 with two homers in 55 at-bats) and Wil Nieves (.320 in just 25 at-bats). As we've discussed, Jason Bergmann threw in four games for Licey back in November (1-0, 3.72 ERA).

Tony Batista (like Guillen and Jimenez, a former Nat) played for Aguilas Cibaenas (.295 in 61 at-bats), as did Bernie Castro and Alberto Castillo and Arnie Munoz. Aguilas beat Licey in the Dominican playoffs, a best-of-nine series they won five games to three.

The Mexican team is Yaquis de Obregon, which has no Nats or Nats-related guys on it, I don't think. (Current Marlin Alfredo Amezaga is on the roster.) Tigres de Aragua come from Venezuela. Melvin Dorta (remember him?) is on that roster, as is Miguel Cabrera.

(Did we ever discuss the notion that, because Cabrera was traded not only out of the NL East but out of the league entirely, the Nats' team ERA might drop by a half a run or so? If not, please consider it. In the three seasons since baseball returned to Washington, Cabrera's OPS against the Nationals was 1.198. Yes, Jim Edmonds (1.218) and Morgan Ensberg (1.211) were technically better against the Nats in that span, but Cabrera had 228 plate appearances (maybe a third of a regular season) and the other two had just 65 and 76, respecitvely. (This all gives me the idea that I should do an all-time Nats Killer list, perhaps in the next couple days.))

Anyway, as best I can determine, Jesus Flores's winter season ended a while back. He hit .242 with two homers and 11 RBI in 32 games for Navagantes del Magallanes in his native Venezuela. Those 32 games yielded 62 at-bats (if the stats I'm finding are correct, and there's no guarantee of that), so that brings his total to the season to 240 at-bats. Again, if that's all he can get from a full season as a backup in the majors and a month or two of winter ball, then you can see the thinking behind possibly sending him to the minors for the full-on, day-to-day grind. Then they can determine whether he's ready to handle that grind and be a major league starter as soon as 2009.

Other odds and ends: We should get word of Johnny Estrada's physical at some point today, which would mean they'd announce the contract. And I know some of you have asked about Charlie Slowes's status. He did part of the Winter Tour and had, by all reports, a good exchange with Stan Kasten at the Health and Fitness Expo. But we have no announcement of his return. Slowes isn't talking, so I've got a question into the club to see what the delay is. I'll let you know if I hear anything.

By Barry Svrluga  |  January 31, 2008; 10:12 AM ET
 
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Next: Estrada deal done; Flores likely to Class AA

Comments

Great info. You've got D'Angelo's name in there twice though (3rd paragraph). I like the Nats Killers idea.

Posted by: Cosmo | January 31, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

" ... these things are tough to come by ... "

... why do you think that is Barry, when the vast majority of baseball fans spend their winter months both speculating on who's doing what in the sun, and continuing their (obsessive) fascination with player stats.

... wouldn't you think that the powers that be in terms of Winter Ball might realize a potential and lucrative fan interest when they see one?

Posted by: natscan reduxit | January 31, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Reposting from the last thread:

Not to be the skunk at the garden party, but I think we should get ready for some preseason forecasts from prognosticators that do not fall in line with the optimistic views here on Planet NJ.

The line might go something like this:

"Here's a team that overachieved last year based on a combination of positive clubhouse chemistry, unexpected contributions from castoffs and an inexperienced rotation whose below-average performance was masked by cavernous RFK and a solid defensive catcher. They still have huge questions in the rotation due to inexperience and injuries. The new park won't hide this weakness like RFK did. LoDuca and Estrada are weak defenders. Clubhouse chemistry is in doubt with the departures of Schneider and Church and the additions of Milledge and Dukes. And while they're hoping for improvements on offense from almost every position (think about that for a second -- it's true), that's unlikely to happen. There is as much or more downside risk as upside potential, at least in 2008. Not only that, but the Nats will have to contend with the likes of the Mets, the Braves and the Phillies in the NL East. Expect this team to be fighting the Marlins for fourth place again this year."

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 31, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

Anybody know if the Caribbean Series will be streamed online somewhere? Couldn't find it on ESPN360.com.

Posted by: Juan-John | January 31, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Check out the construction cam. Shampoo, I think.

Posted by: Bob L. Head (& Shoulders) | January 31, 2008 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that's unlikely, JJ, since it's scheduled on ESPN2.

*******
Anybody know if the Caribbean Series will be streamed online somewhere? Couldn't find it on ESPN360.com.

Posted by: Juan-John | January 31, 2008 10:54 AM

Posted by: CE | January 31, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Another interesting spin-off question:

Do we gain more from not having to face Cabrera for 18 games (i.e., roughly 72-90 plate appearances) or from having to face any talent influx into the NL East more often (just as two examples, Santana for 4 games for the Mets, Brad Lidge closing for Philly)?

I'm of the general opinion that we've actually come out ahead, as Santana's impact on us will be limited to the up-to-4 games he will pitch on us, and Myers actually did a very good job against us when closing for the Phillies last year. Lidge would be doing well to replicate his success, and of course that switch only affects games where a save situation for the Phillies exists (hopefully we can minimize those).

Posted by: faNATic | January 31, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Any more on the Khalil Greene rumors? Just curious.

Posted by: KE | January 31, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Looks like at least some of the Caribbean Series games may be presented on MLB Gameday (not sure if that will include audio or video, though).

Check this link: http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/events/winterleagues/?league=cs

Posted by: Hendo | January 31, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Riddle me this one batmen. How much can we read into Belliard's numbers this summer?
Is he our man at 2nd Base? Was he on vacaciones? Oh well, two weeks isn't gonna come fast enough. I hope he gets some down time anways. Ronnie was one of my favs to watch last year.

Posted by: NiceNat | January 31, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget about Andruw Jones. We don't have to play him as much this year and that will help a lot too.

Posted by: William | January 31, 2008 11:12 AM | Report abuse

"because Cabrera was traded not only out of the NL East but out of the division"

Barry, this type of inattention to detail will still leave you a stud once you get to the Reskins beat, but you're not there yet. Get your head back in the game now. The NL East IS a division.

Posted by: Section 419+1 | January 31, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

What happened with the Tim Tolman-Elijah Dukes connection in Licey. Word was once upon a time that Tolman's recommendation was part of Bowden's deep background on Dukes. Tolman was "raving" about both Duke's bat and his temperament. Then Dukes is thrown out of a game for fighting and now we see that Dukes numbers are not overwhelming. What do the folks in Licey know about the two of them that should be part of a good reporter's curiosity going into the season.

Posted by: Julia's Dad | January 31, 2008 11:26 AM | Report abuse

CE-

I don't see the games listed on ESPN 2. They're on ESPN Deportes, but I don't get that. I know the games were on MASN last year, does anyone know if they'll be picked up there again?

Posted by: pondaz | January 31, 2008 11:34 AM | Report abuse

i have to ask, bob, is that one of the same prognosticators that forecast 120 losses last year?

while i agree with a few premises in his argument, it's all about the negatives and ignores any positives. so exactly the opposite of the ever-optimistic fanboi.

while i'll agree that the stadium will hurt the pitching, how can you say that without also acknowledging it will help the hitting? the new stadium shouldn't change whether the team will be better or worse. if it hurts pitching, it helps hitting, and it should balance out.

losing schneider i'm sure won't help chemistry, but church? was he a big part of the chemistry? weren't there doubts in the clubhouse as to whether he would play hurt?

and "Not only that, but the Nats will have to contend with the likes of the Mets, the Braves and the Phillies in the NL East."

um... didn't we have to contend with the likes of the mets, braves, and phillies last year, too?

seriously, that's a whole lot of specious and circular logic going on there...

Posted by: 231 | January 31, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

reposted, because I forgot to hit submit before:
A few more schedule notes based on my own informal count of the schedule. (Could be off by a few, but ....):

- 72 games against NL East Opponents (18 each)
- 18 games against AL opponents including 6 against O's
- 41 games against NL Central
- 31 games against NL West

Except for the O's the AL opponents are from the AL West this year.

Including opening week and the all-star break there will be 22 off days. Excluding opening week and the allstar break there will be 17 off-days spread out over six months.

The longest road trips are 11 days (Sept), 10 Days (June), 10 days (July). There are also a couple of 8 day trips.

The longest home stands: 12 days (Apr/may), 10 (june), and 11 (sep).

Posted by: NatBisquit | January 31, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I was looking at http://tinyurl.com/2zzlnp
for the ESPN 2 schedule, but that might have been hasty...

Posted by: CE | January 31, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I respectfully request that the Nationals sign the best free agent available at the moment, Charlie Slowes.

Thank You

Posted by: Section 223 w/ parking | January 31, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'd be very happy if the 'experts' disrespect the Nats again. Playing above expectations is always better than playing at or below expectations. This is still a young team and there are likely to be some very bad stretches in the schedule this year. The Nats still don't have an ace on the staff. Who stops the 3-4 game losing streaks? Let the experts predict 100+ losses and hope that 84 wins keeps them in the race through mid-september. (Yes, let me be one of the first to put it on the line. I'm calling 84 with a +/- of 2.)

Posted by: NatBisquit | January 31, 2008 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Indeed, ESPN was only in Mexico. ESPN Deportes in los EEUU.

Posted by: CE | January 31, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

A somewhat related question -- what does Santana's arrival in the NL East do to the team's batting average?

Posted by: jefe | January 31, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Barry wrote:

"Tigres del Licey, the storied team which fired Nationals' third base coach Tim Tolman as its manager just a couple weeks ago"

did he mean 'storied' or 'steroid'?

Just kidding.

Thanks for the update, Barry!

Posted by: e | January 31, 2008 12:22 PM | Report abuse

NatBisquit: Minnesota is in the AL Central, not the West. Oakland is the missing West team. Also, it's 40 games vs. the NL Central and 32 vs. the NL West.

Posted by: Cosmo | January 31, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

One correction: they travel to Minneapolis to face the AL-Central Twins in June.

Which makes no sense, really.

-----

Except for the O's the AL opponents are from the AL West this year.

Posted by: John in Mpls | January 31, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

That prediction sounds pretty much spot on. While i never thought we'd lose 120 games last year, my preseason line was +/- 106.5. While i expect improvements in several areas this year, the pitching will suffer because of the ballpark (and young pitching can get rattled pretty easily) so we'll have to see if the improvements in hitting can cancel that out. If everyone can stay healthy then we have what looks like a pretty solid team, but #1 can everyone stay healthy? And #2 even with these guys do you really see a 84 win team? Are they better then the 2005 Nats who won only 81? Doesn't the rest of the NL east (Except for the marlins) considerably better then it did at this point last year?

At this point i'd probably put the over/under at 91.5 losses, I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but as a guy whose grown up watching the O's and the Nats, I can't force myself to really expect more.

Posted by: VT Nats Fan | January 31, 2008 12:47 PM | Report abuse

John in Mpls, I'm sure the schedulers were thinking that if the Twins hadn't traded their ace, we could have called up Levale for the game and had the long-anticipated Speigner-Santana rematch.

Posted by: faNATic | January 31, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

As I've pointed out before, Speigner beating Santana was one of my favorite stories last season. Any references to this moment are welcome.

When the unofficial schedule saw the Nats back in the Metrodome, I was hoping the league was gearing up for a Santana homecoming.

In the end, I did get the Santana-Schneider battery I was hoping for...

-----

John in Mpls, I'm sure the schedulers were thinking that if the Twins hadn't traded their ace, we could have called up Levale for the game and had the long-anticipated Speigner-Santana rematch.

Posted by: John in Mpls | January 31, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Capitol Punishment had a link to the initial Vegas World Series odds:

New York Mets 5-1
New York Yankees 11-2
Los Angeles Angels 15-2
Detroit Tigers 8-1
Cleveland Indians 10-1
Chicago Cubs 10-1
Atlanta Braves 16-1
Milwaukee Brewers 18-1
Arizona Diamondbacks 18-1
Philadelphia Phillies 20-1
Toronto Blue Jays 20-1
Colorado Rockies 22-1
San Diego Padres 22-1
Los Angeles Dodgers 22-1
St. Louis Cardinals 28-1
Seattle Mariners 35-1
Minnesota Twins 40-1
Houston Astros 40-1
Cincinnati Reds 55-1
Chicago White Sox 60-1
Oakland Athletics 65-1
San Francisco Giants 85-1
Texas Rangers 100-1
Florida Marlins 125-1
Baltimore Orioles 150-1
Kansas City Royals 150-1
Pittsburgh Pirates 150-1
Tampa Bay Rays 150-1
Washington Nationals 200-1


Anyone still think that the world sees us as a much improved club?

Posted by: VT Nats Fan | January 31, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Sorry... Redsox came in #1 and 9-2

must have gotten cut off in the paste

Posted by: VT Nats Fan | January 31, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Random post... I drove by the new park yesterday during the late afternoon and noticed that the Scoreboard was up and running. Clearly I was driving too fast, but there was some montage with the Iwo Jima Memorial playing. From my drive by... it looked pretty impressive. Huge, clear, and pretty awesome. I can't wait to inspect up close!

Posted by: Section 314 | January 31, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Within the division, I would think that the win-loss breakdown might look something like this:
vs Mets 7-11
vs. Phils 7-11
vs. Braves 9-9
vs. Marlins 11-7

Of course I have no basis for those numbers, but if it played out that way that would leave the Nats 4 under vs. the Division. The Central is going to be very competitive, as will be the NL West. Outside of the Giants and maybe the Astros and Pirates who would the Nats be favored against?
Thank goodness for 6 W's vs. the blOws!

I an optimist so I am looking at 82 wins. The bullpen will be solid, the hitting and defense should be improved--its gonna come down to starting pitching. And inuries.

Or maybe the team will go into a collective funk given the absence of Mr. Svrluga. Sigh

Posted by: JoNATthan | January 31, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

First Attempt at NatKiller List:
1. Miguel Cabrerra
2. Andruw Jones
3. Chipper Jones
4. Jimmy Rollins
5. Christian Guzman (for pain inflicted on own team)
6. Chase Utley (high average against Nats)
7. Shawn Green (high average against Nats)
8. Hanley Ramirez (high average against Nats)
9. Jamey Carroll (mostly just for the reason that we gave away a player who hit .300 the following year)
10. The flawed Four 2005-06 pitching staff.

Considered but left off
- Ryan Howard (not really Nat Killer like Cabrerra and Andruw. Just a power hitter in the same division.)

Posted by: NatsFan | January 31, 2008 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Just to follow up--Last year's record vs. this year's opponents:

NL EAST
Mets 7-11
Braves 7-11
Marlins 10-8
Phils 6-12

NL Central
Brewers 2-4
Cards 5-1
Reds 6-1
Cubs 1-6
Pirates 2-4

NL West
Padres 2-4
Dodgers 1-5
DBacks 1-6
Rockies 3-4
Giants 4-3

O's 4-2
Twins 2-1

So who got better/worse relative to the Nats?

Posted by: JoNATthan | January 31, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Talent leaving the NL East: Jones, Cabrera, Willis, Rowland

Talent entering the NL East: Santana, Lidge

Who am I missing? I was thinking, until this week, that the NL East took a big hit this season talent-wise. Santana evens it out quite a bit.

Posted by: Nats Fan in NJ | January 31, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the schedule correction.

Also, I know 84 wins seems optimistic, and largely depends on pitcher health, but if you could get 81 starts out of Patterson/Hill/Bergmann (big if) then I think the 84 win mark is quite defensible. The Nats won 73 last year including 40 at home (40-41). I think better attendance and better offense more than offset the ERA impact from leaving RFK. So I'm saying 46-35 at home and 38-43 on the road to get to 84 wins.

Posted by: NatBisquit | January 31, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

231, I was purposely pointing out the negatives on behalf of a theoretical prognosticator, not trying to lay out the counterarguments we often see here.

I agree that the new park should theoretically help hitting as much as it hurts pitching, although the issue might be that it hurts our (young, inexperienced, injured) staff more than it hurts our opponents, and that it doesn't help what might still be a weak offense (if our middle infielders, Wily Mo, Milledge and/or Dukes don't produce, at least not yet) as much as it helps opposing offenses.

I also agree that Church may not have had all that much to do with the chemistry, but I still think it's a valid point that we have a lot of guys we didn't have a year ago (Pena, Milledge, Dukes, Boone, Mackowiak, Harris et al). I'm not saying any of those guys are bad people (well, other than Dukes), but when you have that much of a change, the clubhouse atmosphere probably changes a bit as well. I just hope all of the new guys are standing on the top step of the dugout like the 2007 team often was.

And yes, obviously, we're still in the same division as the Phils, Mets and Bravos. But the Mets added Santana, Schneider and Church and hope to have a healthy Pedro. The Braves get a full season of Teixeira and are bringing something like ten major league starters into camp. I'm not sure the Phils are any better but they won last year. So my point (actually, the point I was suggesting that a negative prognosticator might make) is that those three teams all look stronger than the Nats do in 2008, just as they finished ahead of us in 2007.

We still need more Zimmermans.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 31, 2008 2:10 PM | Report abuse

vtnatsfan, the odds have been posted before. personally, i don't care what "the world" thinks. i don't expect this team to be 500 in 08, that's a goal, not an expectation. but it's a reachable goal.

as far as the odds themselves, remember, it's not that the line maker *thinks* the nats are that bad (whether he does or not is irrelevant). it's what he thinks people will *bet* on. and to get people to put money down on the nats, he had to make the odds that big. of course nobody outside of DC expects much from them. there are no big names (zimm will be one, but he's not a big name to anyone who doesn't play fantasy baseball). but do you really think "the world" thinks that the marlins are better than the nats (124-1 vs 200-1)?

Posted by: 231 | January 31, 2008 2:17 PM | Report abuse

bob, sure, there are question marks. there were plenty last year. but i think there are less this year. and that, leaving out the whole "pitcher v hitter" equation of changing parks, they ought to get a game or two bump from playing in a new stadium. manny should be a better manager with a year under his belt now. some of those young pitchers who exceeded our expectations are a year older and wiser. like i said, i think 500 is a good goal(and reachable, tho not an expectation).

since the prognosticators and "experts" are often so far off when it comes to predicting the season, i don't really worry too much about what they predict.

Posted by: 231 | January 31, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Charlie, Charlie, Charlie.

Posted by: Bang Zoom | January 31, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I had not seen the odds on this forum before, sorry if it was a duplicate post from a while ago.

The point here is that Bob is exactly right when he says that the predictions are going to be harsh. We should expect to be the most optimistic ones out there, and we should be ready to hear harsh words when we lose, and not much when we win. Here's hoping we make a splash anyways.

Posted by: VT Nats Fan | January 31, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Definitely add Dave Roberts to that Nat killer list. Ive seen him play against us four or five times live, i think i've seen him make four or five outs in that time.

Posted by: VT Nats Fan | January 31, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

wasn't bashing your for posting it, VT.

and i agree that there will be prognosticators saying very bad things about the nats. my point is that they did the same thing last year, and most of us didn't buy it, and most of us were more right than the prognosticators. in fact, the nats surpassed what most of us expected.

i don't buy "really bad" things for the 08 nats any more than i buy them being a WS contender. either extreme isn't really a very good analysis, imo. this team *should* be better than last year, barring eleventy-five pitchers on the DL again.

look at last year's opening day roster and compare it to what we think this year's might be. look at the benches and compare them. the OF. much of what the nats accomplish this year will come down to health.

Posted by: 231 | January 31, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I typically look at the bright side as well. But there is another side, and I thought it was worth pointing out.

We're all thinking that Kearns put it all together in the second half last year and that he can finally post the numbers we've expected over a full season. We're all thinking Milledge is a serious upgrade over Logan, which he probably is (not too hard), but we really also need him to be better than Church, which he might not be at age 22. We're hoping Wily Mo can keep going the other way and that he can hit 30 dingers, but he hasn't proven he can do that yet. We're hoping for another productive season out of Meat, but he could easily regress to his career mean; we're hoping Nick returns, but we don't know if he will; we're hoping Guzman (or Lopez) can generate some offense from short; and we're hoping that a young injury-prone pitching staff can somehow hold it together again. Heck, we're even hoping Zimmerman puts up better numbers than he did last year.

I'll be pulling for all of those things to go the right way. If most or all of them do, we'll be in great shape. Even if half of them go the wrong way, I think we have enough depth to adjust. So I'm not predicting failure, I'm just saying we have a lot on our collective wish-list.

Posted by: Bob L. Head | January 31, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I dunno. With 36 each from Hill and Bergmann, it could happen.

**********
Also, I know 84 wins seems optimistic, and largely depends on pitcher health, but if you could get 81 starts out of {Patterson + Hill + Bergmann} (big if) then I think the 84 win mark is quite defensible.

Posted by: NatBisquit | January 31, 2008 01:37 PM

Posted by: CE | January 31, 2008 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Newp Ost.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 31, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

T Hanky Ou.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 31, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

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