June 5, 2012; Washington, D.C., USA; Washington Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper (34) doubles in the first inning against the New York Mets at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
This week's "Chain Reactions" deals with a rising Natitude, the 'Skins going camping in Richmond, and the Wizards staying the course.
This week the Nationals had the 16th pick in the first round of the MLB Draft and took a player, Lucas Giolito, that some scouts have compared to Roy Halladay! I have no idea if that is even close to the truth, because its the baseball draft, for goodness sake. They can put it on the MLB Network and tell me it is exciting, but it will never be confused with the NFL or NBA drafts.
There are more than a few problems with the MLB Draft. First, only .01% of the population has actually seen any of these guys play. Second, most guys won't be in the bigs anytime soon. Third, the lack of a true Draft Expert, i.e. a Mel McShay or a Todd Kiper. Anyway, my buddy Thom Loverro, who is a Baseball Hall of Fame Voter, raises some good points as to why Nats fans should be encouraged by this year's pick and approach. I will take his word on it.
Natitude is out of Control
You get nothing for being in first place in MLB in early June. However, Nats fans have been given plenty of reasons to celebrate so far this season. The team's in first place in a competitive NL East division. They are led by a starting pitching staff that has lived up to the hype. How often does that happen in this city?
They also don't play the injury card. Instead, they roll with the punches and continue to win. Ace No. 1 Stephen Strasburg has been dominant in most outings and has shown no ill effects from Tommy John Surgery. Ace No. 2 Gio Gonzalez has made GM Mike Rizzo look real smart for trading for him over the winter. Both starters have been among the best in baseball, and both are early candidates to be the NL starter in the All-Star game.
The Nats are must-see TV every night. They usually play really fast games thanks to their pitching success. I grew up on the American League (yes, the Orioles) and like a lot of fans in the area, I was a staunch DH defender. Since the Nationals have come to town, I have often wondered what the hell I was thinking. Of course, I was young and had nothing else to do, so why not sit and watch baseball for three to three-and-a-half or four hours if the Yankees and Red Sox are playing? Now, I enjoy the subtleties of the under-three hour game.
But the most important factor in making Washington must-see TV is rookie Bryce Harper. The kid is the real deal and he has exceeded expectations on and off the field so far. He plays with an unmatched enthusiasm in each and every game. He runs the bases with reckless abandon, and plays that way in the field, too. Adding to my Natitude is the fact that this team is built for longterm success. The Nationals were obviously fortunate. They stunk at the right time, and were able to pick Strasburg and Harper No. 1 overall in back-to-back drafts. Both may be once-in-a-generation players at their repective positions and should be cornerstones of Nationals contenders for years to come.
Skins Going South
The Redskins are leaving the area in 2013 and headed to Richmond, Virginia. For training camp, that is. The 'Skins are hoping to leave distractions behind by going back to an "old school" kind of camp atmosphere. Back in the glory days of the franchise, they held camp in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at Dickinson College. For fans in the DMV, this news might be disappointing because they will no longer be able to swing by camp on their lunch hour or take a half day. Now, you need to jump on 95 South and pray you miss the heavy traffic. IF you are in Richmond and a 'Skins fan, you are estatic at the idea of seeing your team up close next summer.
The Redskins have had little to no success staying at home for camp. So why not change it up? I'm not saying this is why the team has struggled, but if you are truly still in the process of changing the "culture," why not make changes to the way you prepare for the season? Many NFL teams have facilities that are too good to get away from for training camp. It has been well-documented, though, that Redskins Park needs an extreme makeover to catch up with the competition. Every team in the NFC East besides the 'Skins has been taking their camps on the road and it seems to work just fine for them. There is something to be said about leaving the distractions behind (sorry families). The players have no choice but to spend time together when not practicing or meeting. My two radio partners on ESPN980, former Redskins Rick "Doc" Walker and Brian Mitchell, both applauded the move. They point out the bonding between teammates is valuable.
Plus, think of all the great pranks that can take place now. The disappointment for some fans will get erased if it helps the team get closer and lead to Ws. Of course, that will likely hinge on the arm on Robert Griffin III more than any training camp site.
Wizards Staying Course
The Wizards announced this week that Randy Wittman is their head coach moving forward. Not earth-shattering news by any means, and not terrible news, either. Wittman did a nice job making players accountable, getting the most out of his guys, and had the team playing the right way until the last game. Owner Ted Leonsis has pointed out that many of the players, most importantly John Wall and Nene, wanted the coach back. The franchise was so convinced that staying the course with Wittman was the right choice that they did not interview anyone else.
Wittman will now get the opportunity to lead this team from day one and truly put his stamp on it. I like Wittman, but as I have stated in this space in the past, when you have the second-worst record in the NBA, you should do your due diligence and at least talk to candidates on the outside. Fans are NOT going to rush the box office to buy tickets for a team that was once again in the lottery and kept their GM and coach in place unless you make significant changes to the roster in the offseason.
The Wizards will have the 3rd pick, which could end up being Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, or Harrison Barnes. They will have cap flexibility, they will buyout or deal Rashard Lewis, and they will score points with the fan base when they make Andray Blatche disappear. They should be able to add an important piece via free agency or a trade. I think the Wizards can make significant progress this offseason even without the #1 overall pick. The players that supported Wittman in the exit interviews now need to get in the gym and improve their individual games.If these things happen, the Wizards will be rewarded for their stay the course approach. Otherwise, they will be back on the lottery stage next season hoping their lucky number comes up.