Wednesday, March 14, 2007

2007 Preview: Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals finished last in the NL East in 2006, but they finished first in the majors in hitting batters with pitches, plunking 92. Lets hope they don't see the connection in time stop throwing pitches that Craig Biggio can get hit by before he collects enough for the all time record.

The Nationals may be too late to contribute anyway, because they don't face the Astros until July 16th. That series will also, very likely, be Biggio's last chance to get hit by a pitch in RFK Stadium. RFK is one of only two NL stadiums currently in use where Biggio hasn't recorded a plunk, but the Nationals are moving to a new park in 2008. The Astros play 3 games in Washington in July, and the Nationals are scheduled to visit Houston for 4 games in August.

If they're planning on throwing a record breaking or record increasing plunk in one of those 7 games, they'll probably give the job to a new guy. Last year, Ramon Ortiz (18 plunks - 2nd in the Majors) and Tony Armas Jr (13 plunks) contributed the most to their league leading plunk total but both have them have left the team. Livan Hernandez was their only pitcher who plunked Biggio in 2006, but he didn't even finish the season with the team. They've added Brandon Claussen, who threw Biggio's 276th HBP last April for the Reds, but he is beginning the season on the Disabled List (he's expected back in late June, so he might show up in time if his rehab stays on schedule). They also have Jason Simontacchi in training camp, and he is being given a chance at a spot in their starting rotation. He hit Craig Biggio with a pitch twice in his career, and is the only pitcher to plunk Biggio on Friday the 13th.

As for Biggio's other goal for the 2007 season, the Nationals/Expos franchise has already contributed 164 of his 2,930 hits. He batted .300 against the Nats in 2006, including a 5 for 13 trip to RFK. Once again though, the 3000 hit mark is only 70 away, and the Astros don't see the Nationals until July 16th. Biggio hasn't made it to July 16th without having 70 hits on the season since 1989. The fewest hits Biggio has had on July 16th since '89 was 78 in the in 1995, when the season started late due to collective idiocy between the union and the league. Last year he had 89 hits by that date.

Aside from Craig Biggio, the Nationals plunked Brad Ausmus, Willy Aybar, Clint Barmes (twice), Jason Bay (twice), Mark Bellhorn, Carlos Beltran, Russell Branyan, Chris Burke, Pat Burrell, Melky Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera (twice), Jorge Cantu, Jeff Conine, Carlos Delgado, David Dellucci (twice), Matt Diaz (three times), Ryan Doumit, Adam Dunn, Damion Easley, David Eckstein (twice), Edwin Encarnacion, Andre Ethier, Sal Fasano, Prince Fielder (twice), Cliff Floyd, Jeff Francoeur (twice), Ryan Freel, Jason Giambi, Marcus Giles, Tony Graffanino, Wes Helms (twice), Jeremy Hermida (twice), Shea Hillenbrand, Matt Holliday, Ryan Howard, Chris Iannetta, Cesar Izturis, Conor Jackson, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones (twice), Jacque Jones, Adam LaRoche, Jason LaRue, Travis Lee, Mike Lieberthal (twice), Paul Lo Duca, John Maine, Russell Martin, Nate McLouth, Melvin Mora, Eric Munson (twice), Miguel Olivo, Carlos Quentin (twice), Alexis Rios, Mike Rivera, Cody Ross, Aaron Rowand, Olmedo Saenz (four times), Miguel Tejada, Dan Uggla (twice), Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Josh Willingham (twice), Craig Wilson (twice), Preston Wilson, Randy Winn, David Wright (twice), Victor Zambrano, Gregg Zaun last year.

They hit 52 batters at home. 63 of their plunks connected with a right handed batter. They hit the most batters in August, with 25 (they'll be visiting Houston in August). Craig Biggio was the oldest batter that hit last year, but not the only over-40 player the Nationals plunked - Jeff Conine got hit by Ramon Ortiz two months after his 40th birthday. Melky Cabrera was the youngest batter they hit, at about 21 years 10 months.

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