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Washington Nationals @ Kansas City Monarchs - Wild Card Series Preview

June 12, 2006

Washington Times Staff

 

 

On Sunday, the Washington Nationals will visit Municipal Stadium, home of the most feared team in the Union League.  There they will face off against the Kansas City Monarchs in a first round battle for the LWCS.

 

In what will come as a surprise to the casual observer, our beloved Nationals have a surprisingly good chance to advance to the next round of the playoffs.  On the surface Lou Poulas' squad is clearly outmatched - scoring only a few more runs than the Monarchs, but yielding an astounding 150 more.  The Monarchs front line rotation of Pedro Martinez, Mordecai Brown, Bob Gibson, and Martin Dihigo is arguably the best in baseball and will not easily be scored upon.  On the other side of the equation however, the Monarchs have to deal with highest scoring team in the Union League - a team that mashed 276 HR's and slugged .472, both figures are tops in all of baseball.

 

Interesting to note is that the two teams have virtually an identical record over the past month, both of which are among the best in the entire DMB organization.  After a slow team start where the Nationals struggled against all opponents, they have recently won 3 of 5 from the Monarchs since mid-August and outscored them 35-23 during that time.

 

OFFENSE

 

As you can see, the only clear advantage the Monarchs is when their pitchers come to the plate.  Everywhere else the Nationals either have an edge or at least remain equal.

 

#1:  The slow footed George Davis gets the nod over Monarch centerfielder Sam Jethroe.  Jethroe's .331 OBP is not idea for a lead-off hitter, but in his favor he does has 30+ stolen bases although the success rate could stand to be higher.  The shortstop Davis gets on base and has some power.  He's not fast, but the Nationals try not to run as a team concept.  Edge:  Washington

 

#2:  It sounds strange to say, but Charlie Gehringer has been about as valuable as Mel Ott this year.  Ott is in the midst of a down year batting only .231 with a .434 slugging percentage.  Gehringer on the other hand is hitting well above what a typical second-sacker would do and his raw stats match up against Ott's quite nicely.  Edge:  Equal

 

#3:  New drafty Lip Pike has quietly emerged as a very solid hitting outfielder.  While hitting only 12 home runs, he does have gap power as evidenced by his 35 doubles and 11 triples - figures that give him the 6th best slugging among qualified center fielders.  Martin Dihigo is an awesome second basemen who has underperformed since coming over the the Monarchs.  Still, he is a good hitting infielder but not quite as sound as Pike.  Edge:  Washington

 

#4:  Charlie Keller is a masher who hit 40+ homers out the park this year.  Opposite him is the high average, lower power slick fielding first basement Bill Terry.  Terry is an asset, but the lack of pop hurts him significantly while matched up head to head with "King Kong".  Edge:  Washington

 

#5:  Now is a good time to talk about the Lou Gehrig trade.  While realizing that Norm Cash and Gil Hodges could never equal the output of of the Iron Horse, it is time we recognize how good these two have been for the Nationals.  Their combined line:  .352 OBP, .566 SLG, 49 HR, 122 RBI.   Among qualifying first basemen they have the following DMB Organizational rankings:

1st - HR

2nd - SLG

2nd - RBI

2nd - OPS

2nd - Runs Created

As good as this is, the KC #5 batter has just about equaled this productivity.  While not hitting as many home runs, Reuben Jones and his .337 OBP and .585 SLG combine for a powerful hitter that bears careful consideration when runners are on base.  Edge:  Equal

 

#6:  The Nationals catcher, Cal McVey, and the Monarchs shortstop, Pelayo Chacon, come up next.  Both are low on-base, high batting average type hitters and each are clearly well above the peers in their respective positions.  Chacon runs a ton, but that is not a good thing when your success rate is just 66%.  We'll call this one a toss up.  Edge:  Equal

 

#7:  Ron Santo (3B) vs. the Monarch platoon of Deacon White and Buck Ewing.  This one isn't much of a contest as the Monarch teammates combined to slug just .378, well below what Santo's has been able to do(.458).  Santo also has a higher on base percentage and almost three times as many home runs.  Edge:  Washington

 

#8:  The platoon of Stan Hack and Silvio Garcia has been a nice surprise.  Their combined on-base percentage is a very high .378 and we can't help wonder if they would be a better option out of the #2 slot.  Ed Stone of the Nationals has been a huge disappointment this season, and his poor play has forced a platoon situation with Wally Berger.  Still, to get 30 HR's and a .458 SLG out of your 8th slot does not give anyone room to complain.  We'll call this one even as well.  Edge:  Equal

 

PITCHING

 

The starting rotation of the Monarchs is outstanding.  All four starters have well below average ERA's and the top three each have 15 or more wins.  In short, this is an opponents nightmare in a playoff series.  For the visitors, Babe Adams, Ellis Kinder, and Jim Whitney are all very good in their own right, especially when considered the home run happy park that the Nationals play in.  However, lets not kid ourselves - this is a clear advantage for the Monarchs and could be the undoing of Poulas' squad.

 

The bullpen is a bit of a different story however.  Rick Aguilera is an excellent closer and gets the nod over Masaji Hiramatsu of the Monarchs.  Elsewhere, Bob Rush and Mike Henneman also out-produce their counterparts of Ben McDonald and William Bell. 

 

The wild card is Kansas City's Lefty Lamarque who has been dominating this year.  However, it is only over 38 innings and it appears he does not have 100% confidence from his manager and is used solely in situational roles.  Noodles Hahn ERA is 1.45, but only over 13 innings pitched.  The thinking here is that he gets the post season roster spot because the alternatives such as Thornton Lee (6.42 ERA), Joe Benz (7.62 ERA) and Shigeru Kobayashi (5.73 ERA) aren't viable.

 

Within the Nationals clubhouse however, is the belief that the starting rotation can certainly be beat and once they are out of the game the rest of the Monarch pitching staff ceases to be an asset.  For instance, the team closer has been a revolving door since opening day with no single person obtaining more than 10 saves, and five different pitchers recording 4 or more.  Also, the best Monarch relievers are the ones with the least experience which the team thinks can be exploited.

 

DEFENSE

 

Both teams put very good defensive players on the field, but the Monarchs do retain an overall advantage:

Monarchs Edge:  LF, CF, SS, 2B, 1B

Nationals Edge:  RF, 3B

Equal:  C (Ewing arm does not matter since Nationals do not run)

 

If the series lasts the full seven games, a unearned run may be the difference maker but overall should not be a key factor.

 

KEY MATCHUPS - Below are some of the matchups that favor the Nationals:

 

 

As a team this year, against the Monarchs the Nationals:

- are batting .290 / .360 / .479, .839 OPS, 19 HR, 59 RBI in 11 games.

- have put up 23 earned runs in 26 innings (7.96 ERA) vs. the Monarch bullpen

 

OFF THE FIELD

While the two teams will battle on the field, we must also recognize that there is no love lost between the two owners.  The quirky Monarch owner who only goes by "Michael" has taken more than one jab at Poulas during the course of the season, the latest of which contained the remarks, "you just don't have a clue why I'm so much higher than you" and "you traded Walter Johnson for a couple of assclowns."  Poulas responded by calling Michael a "pompous ass" but did go on to say that he was ok with the diatribe.

 

In a later statement Michael did admit to being drunk at the time his comments were made, leaving the media and fans to speculate which was worse - the comment itself or the public admission of drunkenness.  In a later effort to back-up his owner, National starter Ellis Kinder had this to say:

 

"I will always appreciate Louie - we like to call him Louie because he is just one of the guys.  Not that he is a bad owner, well, I wouldn't have traded Walter Johnson for 10 of me, but his heart is in the right place.  Then, that Lou Gehrig fiasco didn't help, but what I mean to say is that he tries very hard and we all love him for it.  I wish he would get some advisors, I can't wait to see what he does an next seasons draft, Keller hit 43 homers for us, maybe he's worth a back up catcher or something..."

 

At that point, thankfully, Cal Mcvey came along and rescued Kinder from further comment.

 

SUMMARY

The main points:

1 - The core lineup of the Nationals have proven to be able to hit the big-3 Monarch starters

2 - The Monarch bullpen has had very little success against the Nationals
3 - Defense matters, but a) both teams are good, and b) the strength of the Nationals is in HR which can not be defended against by position players.

4 - Poulas feels he 'owes' it to the fans by fighting back against the Monarch owner on the field

 

Prediction:  Nationals win series 4 games to 2.

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