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Are the Nationals playing the spoiler, or just playing?

Morning roundup

The whole concept of "playing the spoiler" has always seemed vague to me. It is probably more interesting for the Nationals to play games against teams with something real at stake, the presumably maximum effort by the opponent pulling out their own best effort. I'm not sure they really derive extra motivation from trying to ruin a season. If the Nationals needed something like that, I suspect few of them would ever have become professional baseball players in the first place.

That being said, it is something to cling to when there's little else to rally around. The Nationals can show up only because the schedule demands it, or they can convince themselves this is the way they can make an impact across the baseball spectrum.

"That's all we got right now in the last month of the season, is trying to spoil other people's season," reliever Sean Burnett said.

The Nationals' series win in Atlanta - their second road series victory in a row after not winning 17 straight - brought questions about the Nationals motive for the rest of the season. "Spoiling" makes for the easy narrative. (That's not necessarily going to stop me from avoiding it altogether in game stories and such, to be perfectly honest.) Justin Maxwell hit at something interest, that the notion can seem a little insulting.

"I don't like when people say that, because that's where we want to be," Maxwell said. "Hopefully next year, we'll be in their shoes, fighting for a playoff spot. To say that, that's what it is right now. But we're not really thinking about it that way. We're just trying to finish strong."

Then again, some Nationals pride in the role. They'd of course rather be playing for something themselves. But if not, the next best option is to make some kind of impact.

"The last few years I've been here, we've done a great job of making it tough for those guys to make the playoffs," starter John Lannan said. "That's our goal, to finish this year strong."

There is value in playing against the Phillies this weekend, in a rabid park against a team playing for its season. The intensity probably keeps the game sharper, which can only help the Nationals play better now and gain experience for the future. "It's good for our young guys to go against good competition, teams that are in pennant races in games that mean something," Burnett said.

FROM THE POST

Justin Maxwell's grand slam lifted the Nationals to a 4-2 victory over the Braves as John Lannan won his eighth game.

NATS MINOR LEAGUES

Potomac will resume its playoff series against Winston-Salem tonight. They are tied 1-1 in the best-of-five series to determine the Carolina League champion.

By Adam Kilgore  |  September 16, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
 
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Next: Nationals extend affiliation with Potomac

Comments

In the gamer, two thoughts on Maxwell:

After working with Eckstein to improve his approach, is it a good thing for him to say, upon learning he will start, "I'm just swinging today?" yes, he got the slam, but so what? He ended last season with one too but seems to have learned nothing or been unable to do anything with what he learned.

And why would Willie Harris's philosophy on the subject be of any value?

Both guys are under the Mendoza line.

Interesting column from Boz. If the O's play well deep into next season and the Nats don't, Riggs will probably be gone by the All-Star break. I'm still not 100% convinced he will, or should, be back next year.

Posted by: Meridian1 | September 16, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

When Adam refers to Citizens Bank Park as "rabid", you can take that literally. It's full of violent animals foaming at the mouth - and you need a series of shots if you come in contact with any of them.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

"He got the [game winning] grand slam. So What?" It's nice to be blase about a rare road win, a rarer road series win (abeit the second in a row). The "what?" is the guy has earned a few more starts to see what he has. As for Baltimore, the Orioles are having the NATS' April-earl. May in September. Riggleman's fate will be decided on how the NATS' do in relation to the NL East not in comparison to the Orioles (ie. sweep the O's in Interleage but finish 63-99, he's gone).

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | September 16, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

From Boswell's column:
"We've had to use 14 starting pitchers this year. You never want to lead the majors in that stat," said President Stan Kasten Wednesday. "That means you've had to use nine starters who weren't one of your five best. That's a big hurdle [for a manager]. I keep saying I'm surprised we've won 62 games."

This is such a lame excuse.
Who were the starters out of camp?
Lannan
Marquis
Stammen
Mock
Livo

One of these was derailed by injury.
If these 5 had pitched all season we'd have won 80+ games? Bull. We'd be sitting right around 60 wins like we are now.

We've had injuries, yeah, but really nothing out of the norm.

We've "had to use" 14 pitchers because we trot out a string of AAAA arms.

Posted by: Sunderland | September 16, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

"Justin Maxwell hit at something interest,"
SB: "Justin Maxwell hit at something INTERESTING,"

"Then again, some Nationals pride in the role"
SB: Then again, some Nationals TAKE pride in the role"

I hate the fact that the Post has fired so many editors. And that's not meant to be a slap at you, Adam. EVERYONE needs an editor.

Posted by: AtomicOvermind | September 16, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

@ahardwick: I didn't say the Nats would be judged by how they do AGAINST the Orioles; I said a stark difference between how the Orioles are doing (overall) and the Nationals are doing (overall) will increase pressure on Riggleman if the comparison is unfavorable.

How the Nats perform in a brief interleague series against the Orioles is entirely irrelevant, I agree.

Posted by: Meridian1 | September 16, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Riggleman's fate will be decided on how the NATS' do in relation to the NL East not in comparison to the Orioles (ie. sweep the O's in Interleage but finish 63-99, he's gone).

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | September 16, 2010 9:00 AM

I don't know why people keep discussing this as a possiblity. Jim Riggleman will be the Nats manager on March 31, 2011 (unless something of his volition happens between now and then). He has a contract for next season and I would be stunned if the Lerners pay him to not manage here.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

"We've had injuries, yeah, but really nothing out of the norm."

Livo is the only starting pitcher who has not gone on the DL this year. How many other teams can match that? It has been a rough year physically for Nats pitchers, starting with Detwiler needing surgery in spring training.

At least from a fan's perspective the role of spoiler does give these games meaning. I do get a great deal of satisfaction in crushing the hopes of Braves, Mets or Phillies fans, oh especially the Phillies fans. To have a chance to knock them out of the division lead would be savory, to say the least.

Posted by: driley | September 16, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Sunderland:
Most ML teams make use of 8-9 starters over the course of the year; 14 is a little high, but that number includes three pitchers who have one start each this year (Chico, Batista, Mock).

Strasburg, JZimm, Lannan, Livo, Marquis & Olsen looked decent on paper as a starting staff, but the team has only had three of them healthy (or ready) at any given point in the season.

I tend to agree with you that some of the others (Detwiler, Maya, Martin, Stammen, Atilano) are either unproven or 4A level arms. Every team needs those arms in the system when things break down; You just don't want to make heavy use of them.

Posted by: BinM | September 16, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Sunderland, I don't have that big of a problem with the number of starters used, because most of the moves were logical progressions based on performance, availability and ability. Of the five you listed, Mock and Stammen lost their spots for the year because of performance (and then Mock got hurt) but they probably would have lost them anyway because of the eventual arrival of Strasburg, Detwiler, J. Zimm and Maya. Marquis got hurt and Lannan lost his form, so they both disappeared for a while. Livan was the one constant, Olsen basically got one last tryout and Chico, Atilano and Martin were temps. Batista, of course, was Miss Iowa for a day.

The Nats were probably going to use about 10 starters no matter what, because they were going to work in Detwiler, Strasburg, J. Zimm and Maya at some point this year. The extra moves came about largely because of Marquis and Lannan's problems.

To me, the real question is now what? The Nats will have J. Zimm, a legitimate talent basically wrapping up his rookie year (which was broken up over two seasons) and five other guys who are better than AAAA but all would best fit into the back of a rotation: Lannan, Marquis, Maya, Livan and Detwiler.

That's arguably the deepest rotation the Nats have ever had, I just don't know if it's really that good. Do they suck it up and try to add a frontline guy, even if it's only for a year while they wait for Strasburg to come back? Do they hope a couple of these guys have better than expected years? What do they do?

Posted by: baltova1 | September 16, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

I tend to agree with you that some of the others (Detwiler, Maya, Martin, Stammen, Atilano) are either unproven or 4A level arms.

Posted by: BinM | September 16, 2010 10:15 AM

Maya is definitely unproven - but let's see what he looks like when he's settled in the US after the Fall and Winter. He's got the stuff to get good hitters out (as shown after his rocky first innings) - I remain cautiously optimistic.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I don't know why people keep discussing this as a possiblity. Jim Riggleman will be the Nats manager on March 31, 2011 (unless something of his volition happens between now and then). He has a contract for next season and I would be stunned if the Lerners pay him to not manage here.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 10:11 AM

While Riggs does have a second year on his contract the Nats can buy it out for only $100,000. Don't think cost will be a factor on whether they keep him for 2011 or not.

Posted by: slopitchtom | September 16, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

the Nats can buy it out for only $100,000. Don't think cost will be a factor on whether they keep him for 2011 or not.

Posted by: slopitchtom | September 16, 2010 10:38 AM

Fair point - but he's still not going anywhere.

Now if he's 15+ games under .500 in May, that's a different story...

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

>>playing the spoiler?

Seriously? They've won 2 games in the past 2 weeks. Now the Os, well thaz a different story. One team's playin and the other is being played.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Seriously? They've won 2 games in the past 2 weeks. Now the Os, well thaz a different story. One team's playin and the other is being played.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 10:53 AM

Ohh, counting fail. Nats are 5-8 since September 1st. And they've actually won 5 of their last 7 against NL playoff hopefuls (going back to when the Cardinals had a little bit of hope).

I love it when people are just wrong in their Nats bashing. I mean, there is so much -clear as day- material right in front of your face to use in criticizing the club - but people still have to be wrong.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Baltimore sure loves their red hot Orioles!!

Monday, September 13, 2010 7:05 pm
Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Attendance: 9,882

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

>>Ohh, counting fail. Nats are 5-8 since September 1st

Dear Rose Colored: The Nats are 5-9 in their last 14 and 2-6 in their last week or so. Hey if that spells success to you, Go with it.

And with no pitching in sight, you'll be lucky if the Nats only lose 90 again next year. And Mr Kasten will once again be amazed at how they were able to win so many. What a guy!

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Kev29 - usually like your posts, but I thought there was some unwritten rule here that we (i.e., Nats fans) don't mention the name of that other team, or that of its owner, here.

If it isn't a rule, it should be.

Posted by: gilbertbp | September 16, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

BTW dontcha just love it when your team is what 62-84 and your architect Mr Kasten sez wow I don't know how we were able to win so many games. Makes ya proud. And it certainly gives ya a lotta faith in this guy and the team for the future.

Note to Bryce Harper: Run...Fast and Far Away as possible from this team.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

The other rule that seems to be all to easily forgotten:

Don't feed the trolls.

Posted by: OldDude | September 16, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

GAA! "all too easily"

Posted by: OldDude | September 16, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Dear Rose Colored: The Nats are 5-9 in their last 14 and 2-6 in their last week or so. Hey if that spells success to you, Go with it.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 11:20 AM

You said 2 wins in "two weeks", Mensa scholar. Two calendar weeks - Sept. 1 to Sept. 15 - Washington Nationals: 5 wins and 8 losses.

We suck - so what's the point in embellishing the truth? Now please go back and discuss things with the other rocket scientists at Redskins Insider.

Posted by: Kev29 | September 16, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

>>You said 2 wins in "two weeks", Mensa scholar. Two calendar weeks - Sept. 1 to Sept. 15 - Washington Nationals: 5 wins and 8 losses.

Let's go with 5-8. That comes out to roughly 60-96. Is that the success you're looking for? If so, I think the Lerners and Mr Kasten have found their ideal audience.
Now I understand how they can keep throwing double and triple A players out there and still get peeps to pay.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

BTW Kev, I can see by reading your posts youre an avid Nats fan. So your anger is misplaced. You should be mad at the people who are responsible for another putrid year with no relief in sight rather than a fellow poster who is also a fan.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | September 16, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Whether 10, 15 or 20 the problem still remains and now it becomes glaring because it is at the top of Rizzo's guiding principles for a winning franchise ...

There are no proven top of the rotation starters. Next year's rotation has to feature Zimmermann, Detwiler, and Maya at the top of the rotation. Honestly, watching him, Maya has the right stuff to replace Livo as the staff ace in 2011. And Livo should not be the staff ace in 2010? He like Marquis and Lannan are back of the rotation innings eaters? Because they have this problem YOU ALL KNOW they will again trot Mock out. Perhaps Martis. And then?

They need to see if they can trade some of Zimmermann, Detwiler, Lannan, ... younger guys to a team like KC that wants to trim payroll for Grienke. Or trade some hitting to TB for Garza. Its probably unlikely they could sign Cliff Lee ... but Grienke and Garza are younger. They have got to pull the trigger this off season to add some arms to go with Livo, Marquis, and Maya ... while developing more arms down in the farm system which they appear to now be doing ...

Posted by: periculum | September 16, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I'd rather they spoiled it for the Phillies than the Braves.

Posted by: JohninMpls | September 16, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

And as for Maxwell ... after gushing that he is a great athlete and classy person who deserves a lot of rope ... ughhhh would he say that about anyone else other than Harris or Guzman? Riggleman admits that the league knows Maxwell can't hit fastballs. They throw him fastballs? Aren't major league hitters supposed to feast on fastballs? WTF Riggleman? Maxwell isn't going to learn to hit fastballs if he hasn't already? And at least now we know why he hit all of those grandslams? They throw him strikes that are fastballs ... he's got to be able to hit one every once in blue moon else he wouldn't survive in AAA. With the bases loaded they aren't going to walk Maxwell.

Posted by: periculum | September 16, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

IF the Nats can win 7 out of their remaining 16 games, they will have improved by 10 games over 2009. That's viewed as a year-over-year success (even though we admittedly are starting from a very low point). 2011 should be about how to get 10 games better than 2010 (recognizing that part of the plan to get there is undergoing rehab from TJ surgery). It's interesting to debate how they got 10 games better in 2010 (if they get there) and how they're going to get 10 games better than that in 2011. But at the end of the day, wins are wins and there are no style points.

Posted by: thelonghaul | September 16, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

@skins_fan_22 in room 222 high school?

Dude, they already have 62 wins now ... to make it 62-83? They can't finish 60-96? Right? Simple math?

Suggest you return to RI and discuss Portis and Haynesworth's latest skit.

Posted by: periculum | September 16, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

If they could somehow win 70 without Strasburg that would be enough of an improvement. Hopefully the folks above Mike Rizzo and Mike have seen they can't rely on Strasburg ... they have to go out and trade for some front line pitching ... they will have to give up some of the current crop of prospects to do that ... otherwise I believe they could regress next year. And they have more pitching in the system now ... and more will be coming through next year's draft.

Posted by: periculum | September 16, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

They need to see if they can trade some of Zimmermann, Detwiler, Lannan, ... younger guys to a team like KC that wants to trim payroll for Grienke. Or trade some hitting to TB for Garza. Its probably unlikely they could sign Cliff Lee ... but Grienke and Garza are younger. They have got to pull the trigger this off season to add some arms to go with Livo, Marquis, and Maya ... while developing more arms down in the farm system which they appear to now be doing ...
Posted by: periculum | September 16, 2010 12:45 PM
------------------------
Dreams are good - everybody should have them from time to time.

Posted by: BinM | September 16, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg made the interesting point that they're right where they should be based on the preseason stat predictions. Which suggests that Riggleman is not the problem.

Posted by: markfromark | September 16, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

The Natinals are lousy and right where they are comfortable and belong -- the basement of the NL LEAST. Hope Strasburg doesn't rush back, so he will be fine for his move to NYY in a few years.

Posted by: jwing14 | September 16, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

The Reality God will be in Philly to strike down the LAST PLACE Riggleman Roadkill...after winning a couple fools gold games in Atlanta against a team that has SELF destructed and is done for the year....and now are the KJoolade heads are staining their britches.... NOTS are still 4 wins for last 10...THAT IS WHAT THEY DO !!!!

Posted by: FletcherChristian1 | September 16, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Hey skins_fan_22 if I was you I'd stop throwing stones. Looks like the glass house(according to your handle) has been equal in futility.

If your here to lay waste to the Nats thats yours to do, but most of us are DC Sports fans so no matter who is winning or losing

Posted by: TippyCanoe | September 16, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

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