The Symmetry of 2010

10/1/10 there is a nice symmetry to that date. These were the first thoughts I had after typing in my title to Nationals Daily Evolutions today, and instead of boring you there with my thoughts I figured I would stick them in the side bar here so everyone can reflect right along with me on the 2010 season.

10/1/10 it is almost like a reflection. Twin 10’s mirrored across a 1, but not really. The reflection would be 10/1\01, but in a way that doesn’t share the same beauty. That is what this season has seemed an odd kind of symmetry that isn’t really symmetry.

Stephen Strasburg has come and gone, and at some point in 2011 he will come again. There was excitement and buzz that surrounded the Nationals for the first time since 2005, and then it died a sick and sudden death, the thud and heartache that came with the news. A great dragon arose from its slumber peaked its head out and went right back into hibernation.

Make no mistake about it the Washington Nationals are a slumbering dragon, lurking just behind the curtain of entertainment in this town. People reacted to Strasburg’s debut. People showed up and cheered and I even saw some people crying. I remember after the game having to shove my way out of my row because no one wanted to leave. It was something special, and when something special happens again those crowds will be there to great it. The dragon will rise and breathe a giant puff of fire, and when that happens the baseball world should look out. Of course that metaphorical dragon could never rise again, stabbed through the heart with the departure of first Dunn and then the homegrown players.

But that is all in the future, and this is about the past and reflection. The symmetry that is not symmetry, a t-shirt Tuesday where Mr. Walk-off, Ryan Zimmerman, shirts are handed out, and then Adam Dunn hits a walk-off. It was symmetry to the day. Almost perfect but just a bit off. 10/1/10. Its imperfections are what make it pleasing to the eye. Earlier in the day reports had broken that the Nationals’ were leaning heavily to not resigning Adam Dunn. The reports appeared to be posturing, but the day they came out was not the best. One day after the Phillies had clinched the Division in Nats Park in front of mostly Phillies fans reminding everyone of the horrors of Opening Day. Even more symmetry was added when Ross Detwiler was clubbed by the Phillies in route to a Nationals 7-1 loss. On Opening Day fellow lefty John Lannan was clubbed in route to an 11-1 Phillies victory on what remains one of the worst days in Nats history.

After Strasburg debuted poll after poll hit the Nationals websites. What is the best day in Nats history? Strasburg’s debut finished first or second in most polls behind only the return of baseball. So, what some would call the best day in Nats history happened in the same season as the worst day. It is symmetry that isn’t really symmetry, just a bit astray.

This season also saw a remade bullpen take the field and put up simply amazing numbers. Even after Matt Capps was traded guys like Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen continued to perform, and towards the end of the season Balester had stepped in and performed well. At one point in time Balester was the organizations top pitching prospect. As a starter he struggled getting through a major league line-up three times. So, he was converted to a reliever where he may have found new life. It is a symmetry that is found in major league careers, a slow and agonizing crushing of a dream and then a rebirth.

The bullpen’s rise as a strength of the Nationals is a good bit of symmetry to the 2009 season. It is a reflection of the strides that GM Mike Rizzo has made. He was thrust into the GM’s role quickly and unceremoniously when Jim Bowden was forced to resign in March of 2009. His first act was to try and fix a bullpen that Bowden had ignored. It was a tough job, and proved to be too tough for anyone to handle, but during the course of the year he collected pieces, and then in 2010 the bullpen was a strength. So much so that closer Matt Capps was traded to the Twins for catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

When Pudge Rodriguez signed with the Nationals it was to be the back-up catcher. It was to be a mentor to Jesus Flores, but Flores couldn’t recover from shoulder surgery. Set back after set back, and it started to appear that Flores may never be seen in a Nationals uniform again. So, it was that mid-season with catching prospect Derek Norris still a year or two away from the majors and Flores appearing to be a lost cause the Nationals traded for Wilson Ramos, and in September Pudge finally stepped into the role of mentor. It should be mentioned that both Flores and Ramos are from Venezuela.

The odd symmetry of the Nationals season has had many moments. The entire season record has been what people wanted, around a ten game improvement. Modest, but still impressive for a team that had such a long way to go after back to back 100 loss seasons, and the progress isn’t just seen in the record alone. Holes at the beginning of the season included catcher, right field, second base, starting pitching, and bench. It is rare that a team can fill holes during a season, but with Danny Espinosa’s rise through the minors and the acquisition of Ramos along with the sudden healing of Flores the Nationals might have solved two holes in season. Of course during the season a hole opened in center field with the poor play and questionable actions of Nyjer Morgan. The man that started off the season as what many thought of as the life-blood of the team by the end of the season was seen as more of a poison needle. He still may get a shot next year at center field, but there is expected to be an open competition between him and Roger Bernadina.

Bernadina is another case of odd symmetry. At the beginning of the season he was still working himself back into playing shape after breaking his leg at the beginning of 2009, and now at the end of the season he is lunging and flying open in an effort to compensate for his weariness. In both instances he struggled, but in the middle of the season he looked like a piece to the future. The future cannot and should not be based on small sample sizes, but Bernadina should get a shot at center in Spring Training, and if the team signs or acquires a decent bat for right field then both Bernadina and Morse could be very good bench pieces.

These are just my reflections of the Nationals season on 10/1/10. I have dove into my mind and pulled out some of the pieces of this season that show this odd symmetry. It might be my mind making connections where there are none, but I think this year has been fun. After the 20-15 start the modest ten game improvement is disappointing, but when I look back to 2010 I will remember many things, good and bad. Strasburg’s debut and subsequent injury, the Phillies invasion and Zimmerman’s walk-off vs. Brad Lidge, the hope and fire that Nyjer Morgan brought and the mental breakdown that concluded with the brawl in Florida, and those are just a few of the memories. They all have an odd symmetry.

For every good memory there is an equal and opposite bad memory, and this morning I thought about it. I am about to return to life. The fog of dreariness will lift from my brain. Thoughts of homers and strikeouts will soon be replaced by the reality of Car Tax and refinancing, but then the clouds of winter will lift and I will look at the calendar and see pitchers and catchers report, and once again I will descend down the rabbit hole, and it will be baseball season. Where we forget all our worries, forget all our cares.  

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