Tag: Gio Gonzalez

A.J. Cole Nationals

Nationals prospect A.J. Cole will make his MLB debut in place of injured Max Scherzer


Nationals right-hander and top-100 prospect A.J. Cole will be called up today to make his MLB debut starting in place of the injured Max Scherzer.

Cole was originally the Nationals’ fourth-round draft pick in 2010, but Washington traded him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal only to reacquire him in the three-team swap that sent Michael Morse to Seattle.

In calling up Cole for his debut the Nationals bypassed Tanner Roark, who started 32 games with a 2.85 ERA last season before being bumped to the bullpen by Scherzer’s arrival. For now the team is hoping that Scherzer will only miss one start with a thumb injury and Roark likely would have been limited to fewer than 75 pitches, so manager Matt Williams opted for the hard-throwing 23-year-old Cole versus Atlanta.

Cole has a 3.23 ERA and 60/18 K/BB ratio in 78 innings at Triple-A, including 11 starts there last season and three starts there this year.

2015 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Bob Melvin

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The Big Question: Can the A’s reshuffled roster put them in the playoffs for the fourth straight year?

When I was assigned the A’s preview by that jerkwad who assigns the team previews around here, I gotta tell ya, I was a bit concerned. As a team that cruised for months and then collapsed, the A’s were already the sort of team that is the hardest to predict. Then they went and reshuffled the roster this past winter and who in the heck knows what to think? If I had any hair I’d be tearing it out by now.

But then I remembered: the A’s do this kind of crap all the time. Really, they do.

They have been to the playoffs three years in a row, but they’ve done it a bit differently each time. Last year we were asking whether they could survive without Jarrod Parker and Grant Balfour. Heading into 2012 they were the odds-on favorite to be the worst team in the AL West and all they did was win 94 games after shipping out Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and bringing in Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Parker, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock. Nothing is as constant as change in the Oakland A’s clubhouse. And, at least in recent years, the change hasn’t mattered because the same GM is running the show who has seemingly always run the show. And while no one would ever choose to deal with the particular constraints Billy Beane has to deal with, he has literally been written into a history as a guy who mixes and matches whatever is on hand and somehow always makes it work. Or usually makes it work. He certainly makes it work a lot better with Bob Melvin than he did before. The both of them are just good at putting seemingly disparate pieces together.

So you look at the 2015 A’s, who have lost Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Derek Norris, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, John Jaso and a ton of other guys and who have brought in Ike Davis Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien and a ton of other guys and you could totally, reasonably say “damn, this is a mess.” Or, you could realize that the A’s have shuffled the deck like this almost every offseason, that absolutely no one has had a great handle on what the A’s would do from year-to-year the past several seasons and that, lo and behold, they are usually in the playoffs come October and that, maybe, they’ll be just dandy.

I don’t know if they’ll suck or be dandy. I have to answer that Big Question above with “I have no idea.” But neither do most of you. In some ways this makes them among the most interesting teams in baseball this and every year. But what I won’t do, and what no one else should do, is to lazily say “the A’s blew the team up” this past winter and conclude that they’re rebuilding or that they’re toast or something. Because it’s not been the case in recent years, and you sort of have to trust what Beane and company are doing until it stops working, don’t you?

What else is going on?

  • As for the brass tacks of the various parts of this team, it’s fair to say that the rotation will be pretty good. Certainly at the top, as Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir return. Beyond that there are a lot of question marks, but a LOT of arms who could potentially answer them. Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez and Jesse Hahn will likely be the first three up behind Gray and Kazmir, and all three were above-average starters last year. Waiting in the wings is Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Chris Bassitt. Or maybe Graveman makes it. He’s started four games this spring and has allowed only one earned run. And hell, Barry frickin’ Zito is still banging around. The point is that there is a good bit of quality and depth here, even if the younger dudes are unproven.
  • Lineups? Who needs a set lineup? The A’s haven’t had one in a long time. Sure, they’ve had regulars, but in the past couple of years I’d guess that Bob Melvin has ran out a good one hundred different lineup combinations each season. You do things like that when you have, like, three catchers who can hit. Or, like this year, you have Ben Zobrist who is the player most likely to pull a Bugs Bunny and play all nine positions in a single game. Coco Crisp starts in left, but he could see time in center if things don’t go right. Craig Gentry can likewise play anywhere. The infield is far more unsettled — almost a complete turnover from 2014 — but Zobrist gives them flexibility. Ike Davis and Brett Lawrie are most famous for their status as disappointments, but you don’t become a disappointment without first having promise. If either of these guys even play up to close to their level of potential, the offense could be a huge strength here.
  • Billy Butler is probably the most “famous” import on this year’s club. And his best years — particularly in the power department — seem to be behind him. But he’s actually an improvement over what the A’s trotted out at DH last season. They probably overpaid for him, but the A’s don’t overpay too often. When they do, it’s because they had a big need. And at DH they had a big need.
  • In the pen, Sean Doolittle will get a late start to the year, but he’s expected to be healthy soon and around for most of the season. Tyler Clippard cost Yunel Escobar and will make a lot of money for a setup guy this season, but see above about overpaying for a need. There is a lot of depth here too as many of those guys mentioned above in the rotation section could see time in the bullpen too. As could the aforementioned Barry frickin’ Zito. Flexibility is the key with this club. In every single aspect. One might even say that flexibility is . . . the new inefficiency?

Prediction: With great uncertainty comes great excitement. And fear. And with great flexibility comes potentially great comprises. This A’s team could break in any number of ways. They have the potential to suck or be great. And as recent history in the pre-season prediction business has shown us, teams who are hard to figure in March tend to be way better than the ones who have a set narrative.

But I’m still gonna hedge and say Third Place, American League West. And fully expect to be wrong in one direction or the other.

2015 Preview: Washington Nationals

Max Scherzer

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Washington Nationals.

The Big Question: Will the Nationals finally live up to expectations after falling short of them in each of the last three seasons?

In 2012, the Nationals took the NL East from the Phillies, winning 98 games and reaching the post-season for the first time since moving to the nation’s capital and for the first time in franchise history since 1981, when the then-Expos lost the NLCS to the Dodgers. In 2013, they were many experts’ pre-season picks to win the World Series but slumped throughout most of the season and only finished at 86 wins thanks to a late-season surge. And in 2014, they reclaimed the NL East but still fell short of expectations when they lost the NLDS to the Wild Card-winning Giants in four games.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo made a big splash into the free agent market during the off-season, signing starter Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract. Scherzer bolsters what was already a threatening rotation which includes Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez. Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, again led the AL in wins with 18 while compiling a 3.15 ERA with a 252/63 K/BB ratio. Zimmermann finished last season with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio in 199 2/3 innings, and ended the regular season on a high note with a no-hitter at home against the Marlins. Strasburg finished at 3.14 with a 242/43 K/BB ratio in 215 innings; Fister, 2.41 and 98/24 in 164; and Gonzalez 3.57 and 162/56 in 158 2/3. You won’t find a better one-through-five in baseball, and god help you if you have to face Scherzer/Zimmermann/Strasburg in a short playoff series.

As strong as the pitching is, the offense is nothing to sneeze at, either. The only players to take at least 240 trips to the plate and post a below-average adjusted OPS (also known as OPS+) last season were Danny Espinosa (74) and Wilson Ramos (91). Going into 2015, they’ll have four players who could each get into double-digits in steals in Anthony Rendon, Denard Span, Ian Desmond, and Jayson Werth. They could have as many as five hitters slug 20-plus home runs in Rendon and Desmond – who both accomplished the feat last season – along with Werth, Bryce Harper, and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman.

The Nationals’ biggest weakness appears to be their bullpen. Drew Storen returns as the closer after taking over for Rafael Soriano late in the season. Storen finished the 2014 campaign with a 1.12 ERA and a 46/11 K/BB ratio in 56 1/3 innings. He has a spotty track record and relievers in general are a fickle bunch, but there’s good reason to believe his performance was more real than illusory.

There won’t be any excuses for the Nationals if they don’t live up to expectations in 2015. And they’re expected to not just reach the post-season, but win the World Series. Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, and Span can each potentially become free agents after the season. The Nationals will have a lot of tough decisions to make, and they’ll only be tougher if they can’t accomplish all of their 2015 goals.

What else is going on?

  • The Nationals acquired Yunel Escobar from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Tyler Clippard in January. Escobar, a shortstop by trade, will slide over to second base and form a double-play combo with Desmond. Escobar, 32, has posted a sub-.700 OPS in each of the last three seasons. If there is a weak link in the Nationals’ lineup, Escobar is it.
  • Casey Janssen, the former closer for the Blue Jays, will set up behind Storen. He’ll receive $5 million from the Nationals in total: $3.5 million in 2015 and $1.5 million as part of a buyout for the 2016 season along with a $7 million mutual option. Janssen, 33, made his regular season debut in May due to back problems and finished the season with his worst ERA (3.94) since 2009. Though his control was still pristine, his ability to miss bats took a nosedive. If he can’t rediscover that ability, the Nationals could have problems bridging the gap to Storen.
  • Harper expects to step up in 2015. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft, Harper has been productive but has had trouble staying on the field – he racked up fewer than 500 plate appearances in each of the last two seasons – and hasn’t quite been as productive as his skill set would indicate. He’s only 22 years old and the sky is still the limit. A jump from All-Star to MVP candidate would go a long way towards the Nationals living up to expectations.
  • Zimmerman is moving across the diamond from third base to first base. Though the move will help him defensively, he will have to hit to provide value at the position. In 2014, the average third baseman posted a .714 OPS; the average first baseman was found at .745.

Prediction: The Nationals win the NL East running away with 97 wins.

Gio Gonzalez feels good “right meow”

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.12.12 PM

Spring training is the best. Take this interview of Nats starter Gio Gonzalez in which he uses the word “meow” instead of now multiple times, clearly egged on to do so by Max Scherzer, who was counting each time Gonzalez said “meow.”

Pranks and things can be fun, but absurdist humor is something I can really get behind.