Nationals Magazine Digest: Postseason 2016

The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park
The latest edition of Nationals Magazine is on sale at Nationals Park.

The final issue of Nationals Magazine for 2016 featuring the Washington Nationals celebrating a walk-off victory is now on sale at Nationals Park. The latest magazine includes a vibrant series of photographs featuring “Signature Moments” from the 2016 regular season and two short articles written by the radio broadcasters.

Nine “Signature Moments” are featured in the magazine. Fans should definitely pick up a copy of the magazine to relive the moments by checking out the photos and reading the recaps. Video clips celebrating the “Signature Moments” were featured on NatsHD before the previous postseason games.

  1. April 4 – The Pursuit Begins – The section celebrates the success of Harper on Opening Day and the arrival of Daniel Murphy.
  2. April 14 – One Hundred Grand – Bryce Harper hit his 100th career home run in style.
  3. April 24 – The Roller Coaster – I never leave games early because of games like these. Bryce Harper delivered a game saving pinch-hit home run and Chris Heisey delivered a game winning home run in the 16th inning agains the Minnesota Twins.
  4. May 9 – The Accidental Walk-Off – In a game most notable for Harper’s ejection and subsequent outburst against home plate umpire, Brian Knight, Clint Robinson hit a walk-off home run without knowing the inning of his pinch hit appearance.
  5. May 11 – 20th & K – Max Scherzer had, arguably, the most dominant games of his career when he struck out 20 players in a nine inning game. Strikeouts are sexy.
  6. June 15 – 2 Legit 2 Quit – Jayson Werth told his critics that they could kiss his ass after he delivered a walk-off against the Chicago Cubs.
  7. June 30 and July 3 – See You L-8-R – Danny Espinosa won NL Player of the Week honors after an offensive outburst against the CIncinnati Reds. His most notable achievement was hitting home runs from both sides of the plate in both games including two grand slams.
  8. July 29 – Rule of Three – This one took place late at night on the road in San Francisco. Dusty Baker made a triple switch and substituted in Danny Espinosa, Ryan Zimmerman and Sammy Solis. The result was the first 3-3-5 triple play in MLB history.
  9. September 9 – The Perfect Ending – Trea Turner could probably be elected Mayor if he wanted to put his baseball career on hold. The two time NL Rookie of the Month belted two home runs including a walk-off home run to center field to top the Philadelphia Phillies.

In “You Never Know,” Dave Jagler writes about how the Nationals can very feasibly have a successful postseason run. Jagler describes how anything can happen in October and that teams with the most elite hitters, starters and bullpens are not guaranteed the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Charlie Slowes echoes a similar sentiment in “Hero Time.” Slowes describes how players like Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner can each play a role in a successful postseason run.
The magazine also contains a large (two-page) scorecard which you can use Thursday to score the game.

The Completely Anticipated Anti-Climactic MLB Debut of Ginny Baker

Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)
Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)

Ginny Baker was not a phenom who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a sixteen-year-old. She was not advertised as “Baseball’s Chosen One,” nor was she drafted first overall in the MLB Draft.

Washington Nationals fans, who comprise the greatest amount of my readers, have been fortunate to see many of the team’s first round draft picks breeze through the minor leagues and have seen them have an almost immediate impact in “The Show.”

Prodigies like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who were drafted first overall in their respective MLB Drafts in 2009 and 2010, are not typical. Most players don’t even make the majors.

The chance of making the Major Leagues after being drafted after the 21st round of the 40 round draft is only about 7 percent, according to an article on Bleacher Report. The chances of making the Major Leagues for a player getting drafted out of high school, like Baker, is even slimmer.

Baker, the audience learns during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson, took much longer to develop before her Major League debut. She pitched in the minor leagues for five years and even played two years of winter ball.

The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)
The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)

In addition to not having “Strasburg-like” talent to breeze through the minors, Baker also had to cope with the expectations of having to perform well to meet the expectations of women and girls who followed her career.

Katie Nolan, the host of FS1’s Garbage Time, weighed in on Baker’s anticipated debut in a cameo. Nolan takes a defensive position as she weighs in on Baker’s talent and the iconic nature of her debut.

Nolan can be heard saying, “If you want to say she’s only getting her shot because she is a woman go ahead…bitch and moan all you want gentleman, but tonight a girl is going to be the lead sports story in the world and if that upsets you, maybe you’re just getting your period, go get him Ginny.”

Other national sport media personalities including Colin Cowherd, Matt Vasgersian and Joe Buck also all weighed in on Baker’s debut. It was also clear from their comments that they too were more focused on the social implications of her start than her talent.

Instead of living up to the anticipation the way Strasburg did when he struck out 14 batters without allowing a walk, Baker crumbled.

It was painful to watch her struggle to throw a single strike and then “surrender” when she begs to be taken out of the game by her manager.

As I watched, Baker struggle I began thinking about the major league debut of another pitcher. Julio Urias who made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season when he was just 19-years-old.

Urias’ start was anticipated by the national sport media. Most pundits were able to speak knowledgeably about his discovery by the Dodgers as a 16-year-old in Mexico. Expectations were high for Urias. The LA Times panned him as a “phenom” who was making a start for the team who despite having the highest payroll in the division was floundering.

Julio Urias' anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
Julio Urias’ anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings. (photo from Newsday)

Urias struggled mightily in the national spotlight. I cringed as the New York Mets had their way with him. He threw 36 pitches in the first inning and gave up three runs and four hits.

Urias exited the game after throwing just 81 pitches in 2 ⅔ innings in a Dodgers walk-off loss to the New York Mets.

He looked a lot like Baker on the mound. Urias was under a tremendous amount of pressure in a very similar way that Baker was under pressure.

Baker’s anti-climactic debut was a dramatic viewing experience that was well captured by the show’s writers. An immediate “Bakermas” performance tantamount to “Strasmas” would be too unrealistic.

It will be exciting to see how quickly the writer’s have Baker’s performance improve and whether she will in fact be demoted the same way Urias was after his spot start.

Topps Now: Bryce Harper Starting NL Outfielder in 2016 MLB All-Star Game

Bryce Harper was the leading vote getter among National League outfielders and will start the All-Star Game.
Bryce Harper was the leading vote getter among National League outfielders and will start the All-Star Game.

Topps announced the production of Topps Now cards this week to celebrate the players who were voted in as starters for the 2016 All-Star Game taking place Tuesday in San Diego.

Cards for the American League (AL) infielders voted in were announced on Wednesday. Cards celebrating the National League (NL) infielders who received the most votes were announced on Thursday. Finally, cards for the leading AL outfielder and NL outfielder vote getters were announced on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Bryce Harper was the only player from the Washington Nationals to be named a starter for the All-Star Game by the fans and he is featured on the newest Topps Now card.

Daniel Murphy, the league leader for his position in batting average (.349), home runs (16), and RBI (64), was narrowly edged out by Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs who won by just 88 votes.

Harper received more All-Star Game votes in 2015 than any other player in NL history. This season, the NL Player of the Month for April received the most votes among outfielders this season finishing with 2,865,095 votes.

Ironically, the next two leading vote getters, Yoenis Cespedes (2,816,146 votes) and Dexter Fowler (2,767,109 votes), will not participate in the game as a result of injuries.

The back of the Topps Now card shows the vote totals for the National League outfielders.
The back of the Topps Now card shows the vote totals for the National League outfielders.

This card is a great souvenir to celebrate the success and popularity of Harper. It also will serve as a reminder that All-Star Game voting matters. If another three Nationals fan had used their maximum allotment of votes, the National League team may have fielded two All-Stars from Washington.

Topps will also release Topps Now cards for the All-Star Game starting pitchers. Terry Collins, the manager of the New York Mets, has the authority to name the starting pitcher for the National League. Perhaps Collins was impressed with Scherzer’s nine strikeout performance against the Mets on Saturday night and will give Scherzer the honor.

Another blog post will follow if Scherzer, who was named as a replacement for Stephen Strasburg, is announced as the starting pitcher.

This limited edition baseball card will be available on the Topps website until Sunday, July 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Giveaway Review: Bryce Harper MVP Bobblehead (Grade A-)

Fans at Wednesday night's game received a Bryce Harper MVP Bobblehead and also witnessed a spectacular pitching performance by Max Scherzer.
Fans at Wednesday night’s game received a Bryce Harper MVP Bobblehead and also witnessed a spectacular pitching performance by Max Scherzer.

The first 25,000 fans to arrive at Nationals Park on Wednesday received the most coveted giveaway item of the season–a Bryce Harper MVP bobblehead presented by SAIC.

Concern about whether fans would get to see the 2015 National League MVP play was shared on social media after MLB announced that Harper was issued a one game suspension for confronting Brian Knight, the home plate umpire, following Monday night’s walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers.

That concern was mitigated when it was announced Harper would appeal of the suspension. Harper went on to have a great night at the plate. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, but the spotlight was focused on Max Scherzer who became just the fourth pitcher in history to record 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Hundreds of fans cued up on N Street and Half Street before the Center Field Gates opened to ensure they would get the bobblehead. The box office line to purchase $5 grandstand tickets wrapped around the parking garage on First Street more than 2.5 hours before the game.

Although I was unable to attend Wednesday’s game, my roommate brought me back an extra bobblehead courtesy of his colleague’s girlfriend (thanks Lily).

Everything about this giveaway seemingly screams MVP (or MVPDMV). The box that holds the bobblehead has three photos of Harper that showcase his talent and persona.

The front of the box has a photo of Harper flashing the American Sign Language sign for “I love you” as he crosses home plate. The front also says #MVPDMV in small print along the bottom of the box. The hashtag received minimal engagement which may have been attributable to the excitement of Scherzer’s performance.

There is also a photo of him looking up at the ball after taking a home run swing.

The third side has a close up photo of Harper smiling in the dugout.

The fourth panel lists his 2015 MVP stats including his NL leading home runs (42), slugging percentage (.649) and runs scored (118).

The bobblehead depicts Harper in the same pose shown on the front of the box. Harper is wearing a red jersey and batting helmet with white pants lined with red and blue piping. Harper struck that pose 42 times last season when he crossed the plate after hitting home runs. The base of the bobblehead also has the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award which leans up against Harper’s legs.

The MVP bobblehead giveaway is just the first of a handful of Harper-themed giveaways to be distributed during the 2016 season. Future items include a Ratpack Poster (July 2), Harper Chia Pet (July 5) and a Harper Kids Jersey (July 24).

We give the marketing team lots of credit for having more Harper promotions this season. He is, after all, the most popular player on the team. The last Harper bobblehead giveaway was in 2014. 

It is also nice that the bobblehead carries an historical theme and is not another generic batting stance collectible. The historical nature of last season’s bobbleheads were a defining differentiating factor that made the series unique.

One negative aspect of having a giveaway item in such high demand is that some fans (or entrepreneurs) buy up large quantities of tickets so they can resell the bobbleheads they collect each time they enter the ballpark. Reported sights of fans walking around Nationals Park with towering stacks of bobbleheads, while other fans missed out may make the marketing team reconsider its claim that the first 25,000 fans receive giveaway items.

If you missed out on the Harper bobblehead at Nationals Park, consider buying a ticket to the Potomac Nationals game on Saturday, May 28. The first 1,500 fans at Pfitzner Stadium will take home a Bryce Harper NL MVP bobblehead.

Grade: A-

A Review of Nationals Winterfest

This weekend was truly “everything you loved about NatsFest…all wrapped in a holiday bow.” It may have been even better than NatsFest.

The most significant improvement to the annual event was the amount of fan interaction with players. Last year, the opportunities to mingle with players were much more limited. A majority of the meetings took place at player photo stations–where fans had the chance to grip and grin with some of their favorite players.

This weekend there were plenty of opportunities to take photos with players at the photo stations, but it was also not unusual to see players mingling with fans at every activity in the exhibition hall.

12371035_941522649249044_9025730694106308605_o
Fans were able to shake hands and pose for photos with players at three photo stations.

Jayson Werth was on top of “The Slider” and helped push fans down the snow tubing themed slide. Dusty Baker posed for snow globe photos. Taylor Jordan tossed baseballs with fans at the carnival games station. Stephen Strasburg gave advice to fans at the steal home challenge station. Oliver Perez greeted fans preparing to encase themselves in plastic bubbles at the snowball run station. Players were everywhere and they were excited to meet the fans.

IMG_20151213_144926
Taylor Jordan looked on as I aimed for the Philadelphia Phillies target at the carnival games station.

Winterfest was also defined this year by the presence of Bryce Harper. Harper sat out last year’s NatsFest, according to General Manager Mike Rizzo, because of an arbitration hearing that was scheduled for the following week.

The 2015 National League MVP more than made up for last year’s absence. Harper navigated the Walter E. Washington Convention Center with a five man security detail, but he was still incredibly accessible to fans as he posed for photos and taught baseball mechanics at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy Field.

Harper may have been closest to fans on Sunday during the Lip Sync Battle which commanded national attention from the news media when he accessorized with a pink feather boa and danced to a song by the Spice Girls. He subsequently serenaded a young fan from his knees to the tunes of “My Girl” by The Temptations.

Main stage events including Nats Pictionary, a favorite from NatsHD Live pre-game show, and Youngbloods Q&A, where Gio Gonzalez sassed four rookies about their off seasons for 30 amazing minutes, seemed like an upgraded from last year’s NatsFest. These events replaced less exciting main stage events like the gingerbread house building contest and Jerry Blevins’ discussion about his all-time favorite movies.

There were only a few areas that warrant improvement for next season’s Winterfest.

The video pitch simulator station was one of those places. The virtual reality station gave fans the opportunity to throw pitches and then watch a batter smack it out of the ballpark. Unfortunately, the experience took more than a couple of minutes for each fan to experience which made waiting on a line of more than 30 people seem like an unwise investment.

The conclusion of Winterfest can also be improved. Sunday’s festivities on the main stage unceremoniously ended with Matt Grace and Taylor Jordan watching children faceoff in reindeer ring toss which didn’t establish a real sense of closure for fans.

The official final event of the day was the mascot home run derby which felt like a strange way to close the event compared to last year’s grand finale when the entire team gathered on the main stage for a sendoff.

We would start looking forward to next season’s Winterfest, but that could wait until October.

Star of the Series 5/8-5/10 (Bryce Harper)

Series Scores
Friday, May 8, 2015 Braves 2 Nationals 9
Saturday, May 10, 2015 Braves 6 Nationals 8
Sunday, May 11, 2015 Braves 4 Nationals 5

The Washington Nationals trailed the Atlanta Braves 9-1 in the second inning on April 28 when the teams last met at Turner Field and they were able to avoid their seventh consecutive loss in a memorable 13-12 in comeback.  The Nationals’ success against their division rival continued on Sunday afternoon before a crowd of 31,938 who gathered at Nationals Park to watch the Nationals complete their first series sweep of the season with a 5-4 win.  The Nationals have won 10 of their last 12 games since the historic comeback.

The Nationals overcame an early 2-0 deficit on Friday night and slugged their way to a 9-2 win.  Jayson Werth got the Nationals on the board in the fourth inning with a solo home run.  The  remaining seven runs were driven in on home runs by Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa who both hit two home runs.  Gio Gonzalez (3-2) had another strong performance working seven innings and striking out eight batters while allowing only two runs on five hits.

The Nationals almost took a 7-6 lead in the eighth inning on Saturday afternoon on a Dan Uggla single to left field.  Michael Taylor, who entered the game as a pinch-runner for Jose Lobaton, tried to score from second base, but was nailed at the plate by Kelly Johnson.  Bryce Harper played the role of hero on Saturday with his third career walk-off homer in the ninth inning.

Many players deserved star of the series nominations.  Espinosa and Lobaton both receive honorable mentions this series.  Espinosa has hit four home runs this season from the left side of the plate after a spring training experiment where gave up switch-hitting and only hit from the right side of the plate.  Lobaton also gets an honorable mention this series.  He has hit two home runs in his last three starts and continues to demonstrate he is a capable backup catcher.  Here are the nominees for the 5/8-5/11 star of the series against the Braves.

  1. Bryce Harper
  2. Wilson Ramos
  3. Ryan Zimmerman

Bryce Harper was named the National League Player of the week on Monday afternoon.  Harper became just the fourth Nationals player to hit three home runs in a game when he did so on Wednesday afternoon against the Marlins.  Harper got off to a shaky start on Friday night in the fourth inning when he singled on a line drive to center fielder Cameron Maybin.  Harper took a big turn towards second base was tagged out by Freddie Freeman who received a strong throw from Andrelton Simmons.

Harper made up for his baserunning mistake in the sixth inning when he drove a 1-2 pitch over the wall in center field.  The two-run home run scored Yunel Escobar and gave the Nationals a 3-2 lead.  Harper’s second home run of the game was a three-run homer in the eighth inning that scored Escobar and Werth.  Harper hit his National League leading 11th home run of the season to win the game for the Nationals on Saturday.

Harper also showed off his defensive skills in the seventh inning on Saturday.  Harper recorded all three outs of the inning.  He athletically tracked down a sharp line drive hit by Nick Markakis to record the third out of the inning.  Harper’s leaping grab kept at least one run off the scoreboard.

Wilson Ramos extended his hit streak on Sunday to 13 games.  His 13-game hit streak is the second longest of his career and it propelled the Nationals to victory on Sunday afternoon.  Ramos gave the Nationals a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a single to right field which scored Ryan Zimmerman who executed a hook slide to avoid Christian Bethancourt’s tag.  Ramos’ most important hit came in the eighth inning when he hit his fifth double of the season on a fly ball that sailed over the head of Markakis in right field.  Zimmerman scored and gave the Nationals a 5-4 which was preserved by Drew Storen who recorded his ninth save of the season.  Ramos ended the series with a .327 AVG–the highest AVG on the team.

Ryan Zimmerman hit his third home run of the season on Saturday in the fifth inning off Julio Teheran (3-1).  Zimmerman’s three-run home run flew over the left field wall and bounced back onto the field.  The play was reviewed and Zimmerman came into score as the Nationals fans celebrated his home run for a second time.  Zimmerman also drove in his fourth and fifth RBIs of the series on Sunday afternoon.  Zimmerman scored Harper from second base in the first inning with a double.  Zimmerman’s 22nd RBI of the season tied the game on Sunday afternoon at 4-4.  Zimmerman scored the winning run on the very next at bat off Ramos’s double.

Star of the Series: Bryce Harper

Harper had three home runs this series against the Braves.  His seven hits and eight RBIs made him the star of the series.