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We Are Who We Thought We Were

April 9, 2015

We knew the Nationals were going to be like this, at least for the first month, as the fallout from the spring injury spree affect games that matter. The offense, missing half of its runs from last season, sputtered yet again, with stranded base runners, some BABIP fluke hits, and the one blast that put runs on the board. The pitching was the difference, as it has to be when you have this rotation. Zimmermann wasn’t even particularly good, just good enough for the Mets. Welcome to the Nationals’ 2015 April. Expect to see more like it until some healing takes place.

First off, Zimmermann did not look good. His command in the zone seemed all over the place, and he succeeded thanks to some pretty marginal calls. The third strike on Granderson in the second, which called a ball could have resulted in an entirely different game, was “friendly” to say the least. Ramos is not known as a great framer, but he seemed to buy that call. (Robot umps now.) After that flare-up Zimmermann settled in pretty well.

Blake Treinen was quite the topic on Twitter, but looking at that 8th inning, he can thank his lucky stars for every out. Treinen’s stuff was flying everywhere, 98 mph with what looked like a foot of arm-side run and sink. That’s great! Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have much idea where it’s going. Granderson (again! unluckiest Met in this game) singled in the hole, but no one told Ryan Zimmerman who stopped it with a dive and threw to Treinen, smartly covering first (Strasburg, take note). After a legit single from Wright, Treinen found a liner in his glove and forced out Wright to complete the double play at first. Despite his filthy stuff, Treinen was not that impressive. His command issues are nowhere near Henry Rodriguez’s depth, but he’s going to need to tighten up to make us all forget Tyler Clippard. Storen showed his mettle with a clean ninth. Ballgame.

Like the first game, this was a low-scoring affair featuring dominant pitching and meager offense, with the only difference being the quality of play in the field. Get used to it, because we’re going to be seeing a lot like these, I fear.

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Thoughts on Expectations

April 7, 2015

2015-04-06 15.48.59Opening Day is a national holiday (I don’t care what anyone “official” has to say about that), and I spent this year’s at the only place one should hope to: the ballpark. Specifically Nationals Park for the home nine vs the New York Mets. It did not go as I had hoped or as most had assumed.

This is a weird year for the Nationals, a team thought by most to cruise through the regular season and ideally through the playoffs, bringing DC its first champion in ages and its first baseball champion in virtually anyone’s memory. Expectations soared in 2013 after the surprise playoff push of 2012, but even then there was a seed of doubt. Some natural regression was due to hit, a solid Braves team threatened to unseat the Nats atop the division, the usual caveats. This year there seem to be no roadblocks to an easy NL East victory. The best team from last year’s National League got, on paper, a lot better. World Series or bust.

That supposed ease is probably what makes me so uneasy about this season. Sure, the spring injuries, while likely only affecting the first couple weeks of the season (#prayforRendon), are cause for concern, but spring is frankly the right time for a rash of injuries. Better now than in September, that whole talking point. It’s the unforeseen that gives me pause. I need to be able to analyze the team and see that THIS is what could go wrong and if the team does THIS, we’ll avoid it. I don’t see any of THIS on this team, and that’s scary because teams favored to win it all before a pitch is thrown in earnest don’t ever win it all when the last pitch is thrown. At least not in this expanded playoff era where anything can and does happen.

Maybe this is why I was steeled for yesterday’s disappointment. The lack of offensive production from the spring carried over, with the 4-9 hitters in the lineup going a big old 0-for-Monday (and only one walk. Yeesh). Scherzer was stellar, but he must have wondered where was that defensive upgrade he was supposed to be getting going from Detroit to DC, as Ian Desmond (with an assist from Dan Uggla) literally dropped the ball behind him, enabling the deciding runs. Bryce Harper, still starring in the role of Only Decent Nats Hitter he perfected in the 2014 playoffs, clobbered a mistake with a homer to right-center and burned some worms on a grounder single up the middle.

And then quickly but not mercifully, it was done.

Because I spent so much time at the park, arriving a good 2 hours early to really take in the scene, I didn’t get to catch much of yesterday’s other action around MLB. The featured 7 pm game was Cleveland-Houston (?!), and an Opening Day Kluber-Keuchel pitching clinic ensued. (2013 Brad is laughing.) I caught most of that and a good bit of Toronto doing a fine job waiting out Masahiro Tanaka and pouncing once they figured him and his splitter out. Tonight, Mat Latos for the Fish headlines, and the Nats go dark for the day.

Baseball’s back and so am I.

Marathon Training: Weekend Update

November 10, 2014

Weekends mean the best and most feared run of the week: the long run. Sunday saw my longest run since ITBS, a seven-miler. Some perspective here: seven miles used to be my usual weekday run before my injury, so I’m still on the long trail back to total fitness. Saturday’s run was my standard very slow pre-long run, 3 miles. Sunday I headed out on a wonderfully brisk morning to Virginia, heading out over the 395 bridge and back into DC over the Memorial Bridge.

I haven’t gotten to the point yet in long runs in which I feel the need to supplement in the morning with extra food. For longer runs, usually over a half marathon, I would eat some gummies before running. For the really long ones, I’d even bring a GU package. But for a 7-miler… bah. I can do without.

And so far no ill effects on the Monday runs. A nice easy 3 miles today, out around Navy Yard. Very little tightness in the legs to shake out, just a lingering bit of pain on the bottom of my left foot that seems to be exacerbating my long/strenuous runs. I initially thought it was a symptom of the ITBS, but it a. isn’t going away and b. doesn’t seem to get any worse. Just getting old, I guess.

124 days to go.

Marathon Training Day 18: The Hills Are Alive

November 6, 2014

wpid-20141106_075549.jpgThursday means hill day. So that’s fun! It was a little wet, but I managed to time my run after the worst of the rain stopped. Still, a lot of wet leaves on the sidewalk is not a recipe for confident sprinting.

As part of my recovery from ITBS, I’m focusing one run a week on hill repeats. And really, any runner should be doing them because it helps prevent injury. That’s where you find a stretch of maybe 100-200 yards with a reasonably steep incline and sprint up it, then jog down the other side. Do this several times (hence “repeats”) bracketed by at least ten minutes of warmup and the rest of the run at a decent pace. It’s not really a lot of fun, but it really helps build explosive strength in the legs, especially the butt. The hill that I’ve been using for a while is on E St SE between 1st and 2nd. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge hill, but it has a nice, consistent incline. I may try upgrading soon, but I haven’t found another that I really like. Capitol Hill has some really nice inclines (obviously), but I can’t imagine going back and forth over the same stretch would endear me to Capitol Hill Police.

As for hills, the area I live in is a bit weird. I live in a pretty sunken part DC in the southwest, so every run I do basically starts with a hill climb and ends with a descent. This was great in training for the Richmond marathon last year, which ends with about a quarter mile of steep descent. Hopefully it’s not detrimental for training otherwise.

As far as that picture goes over there, that’s just a lovely shot I took looking out over the Washington Channel. The Titanic Memorial is to the left. This is where I did my warmups, and it will be part of the marathon in March.

128 days to go.

The Blue Decline of Youth Football

November 5, 2014

I’ve maintained for a while now that the way American football will diminish in popularity is not from the top down, i.e. people deciding the game is too violent and thus won’t watch it. It’s from the bottom up, i.e. parents will decide the game is too violent and won’t let their kids play. Or because the game is so violent, youth programs won’t be able to afford insurance. Then those kids will go on to other sports, leaving football still alive and strong but with a diminished level of play. The New York Times yesterday ran some intriguing numbers backing up that stance but through the prism of a partisan divide.

On The Upshot, which is their new numbers-focused section now that 538 is gone, David Leonhardt looked at traditionally “blue” states and found that in states like Colorado, California, New York, and Massachusetts participation in high school football is trending down. (These states also happen to have a better-educated citizenry than, for instances, the states comprising the SEC, currently the top conference in college football.)

I brought up the SEC because right now, they are the dominant force in college football, and it’s not close. Leonhardt, as an example of the enduring popularity of American football, brings up Michigan-Ohio State as an example of an event game that still draws tens of thousands and nation-wide interest. But it’s telling that he references that game, in that both teams used to be powerhouses and have fallen in relevance. Now the top five is dominated by the south, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State (out of seemingly nowhere), and Florida State. Is that in any way related to the regional changes Leonhardt mentioned in the Times? Or is it simply due to the cyclical nature of recruiting and rebuilding that college teams go through? Tough to tell.

Not that I’m watching of course. Because I’m one of those liberals, I guess, turning on the sport in part because of its violence. QED.

Marathon Training Day 17: Sad Runnings :(

November 5, 2014
The DNC: the saddest place on earth this morning

The DNC: the saddest place on earth this morning

Not really that sad, but after the WAVE of last night, I decided to head toward the Capitol which is going to see some changes early next year. I can’t say I was as fully invested in the outcome of yesterday’s elections as I used to be when I, you know, got paid to care. (I was actually more emotionally invested in local races which finished about as well for me as the federal elections did for Dems.) But still, enjoy the celebration while you can, Republicans, because the next two years are going to be hell! But enough politics.

Today was a 3.5 miler with one mile in the middle of marathon pace. I tried to maintain an even 9 minute mile for the whole thing but got a little too much speed for the rest of the run so I ended up at an 8:47 pace.

I’m incredibly lucky being in Washington, DC in that my boring daily runs include majestic views of the Washington Monument (when it doesn’t have ugly scaffolding) and the Capitol (which does have ugly scaffolding now and will for years). Plus, I get to run along the pristine National Mall, which for some reason is almost entirely closed off. Here’s your front yard, America! Now stay behind that fence and don’t touch it.

Before I hurt my IT band, I was doing almost 50 mile weeks, including my boring weekly runs of 6 and 7 miles. Doing these 3 and 4 milers is really obnoxious. My instinct is to build up quicker, but I’m trying to keep my slow, incremental mileage buildup plan intact and not jump ahead. Trying. We’ll see how that holds up. 129 days to go until the marathon.

Marathon Training Day 16: Faster, Stronger

November 4, 2014

Today was much better than yesterday’s slow slog. Tuesdays mean speed, but today also demonstrates that I suck at pacing. Let me explain.

My system has been 10/80/10: 10% of the total time as a warmup, 80% body of the workout at the pace I want to maintain, 10% marathon pace. This structure applies to every workout. What varies is the 80% in the middle. Some days it’s just a steady pace, some days it involves hills, and on Tuesdays it’s for intervals. Today I did 3 cycles of 1/4 mile marathon pace, 1/2 mile about a minute slower. As I said though, I suck at pacing, so I consistently found myself going too fast in every single phase of my run. For the final 10% (in this case .45 mile), I was clocking in at almost 7 minute mile pace, almost a full minute faster than I’m aiming for. Not good, but maybe not entirely bad? We’ll see.

Besides constantly checking my GPS watch and adjusting my pace, the run was great. This morning was substantially warmer than yesterday, a different route traversing Capitol Hill toward Lincoln Park and back along East Capitol St. Fall is looking lovely in that part of DC, too.