March 29, 2021
Most major league teams concluded their spring training games today, and the remaining ones (14) will do so tomorrow. The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros tied 2-2 in their final practice game, in the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, which they share with each other. It was the sixth time the "room mate" teams have played each other this spring: the Astros won three times, the Nats won once, and twice they tied. The Nationals finished with a 10-9-5 record, which doesn't really mean very much, of course.
What does mean something is that Ryan Zimmerman hit six home runs in spring training, only two behind the leaders Joc Pederson and Corey Seager -- both of whom had almost twice as many at-bats as did Zimmerman (27). His 15 RBIs were likewise close behind the leader Joc Pederson (with 19), but his amazing batting average of .481 can't really be compared with the other guys because he had too few at-bats to qualify statistically. At any rate, Ryan is definitely on a roll! Not only that, the Nats' other first baseman, newly-acquired Josh Bell, matched Zimmerman in the home run and RBI departments, and finished third among major leaguers with a .383 batting average! (Bell had 47 at-bats, which did qualify.)
With overloaded slugging power at first base, the Nationals are in a quandary. Can Bell be shifted to second base? It appears probable that the expected second baseman Starlin Castro will start the regular season at third base, because the young Carter Kieboom was given a minor league assignment in Rochester after failing to meet expectations in spring training. His batting average was only .133, and he batted in just one run. Trea Turner of course will be at shortstop, but he had a mediocre spring trainning as well. Utility man Josh Harrison and Hernan Perez are the alternative second baseman. Luis Garcia has experience there as well, but he has been optioned to the Nat's Rochester team.
The other good news for the Nationals is there new outfielder, Kyle Schwarber, who seems to be returning to his hot slugging ways from the years preceding 2020. He had four homers, eight RBIs, and batted a respectable .250 during spring training. Along with superstar-in-the-making Juan Soto (nursing a minor injury) and Victor Robles, the Nats' outfield looks to be in good shape this year. Andrew Stevenson provides solid backup if the need arises.
Pitching is a big question mark for the Nationals this year. Both Max Scherzer (who will start against the Mets on Opening Day this Thursday) and Stephen Strasburg have been dealing with ailments, pitching very effectively, up to a point. The two left-handers, Patrick Corbin and Jon Lester (the latter newly acquired) have pitched well enough in spring training, but much remains to be seen. Joe Ross will start the season as the number five pitcher, and he at least seems to have improved. On the other hand, the expensive new closing pitcher, Brad Hand, has an ERA of 12.15 this spring -- just awful. He was supposed to provide stability to the Nats' much-maligned bullpen, and much is expected of him in the regular season.
Although I am fairly confident that the Nats will make the postseason this year, given the challenges from the Braves and the newly-improved Mets, the NL East Division title is far from certain. After I have studied the other teams more carefully, I may make a prediction.
I have revised the Busch Stadium II diagrams, after reminding myself of the minor change that was made around the year 2000, when an extra row of seats was added in front of the loge level near the left field and right field corners. That row overhung the playing field, so I used a different color to call attention to that. One thing led to another, and I decided to render the overall curvature of the grandstand more accurately. The front of the loge level is now circular for the entire distance along which the retractable part of the lower deck traverses. (I should have paid more explicit attention to that before; I had a similar issue in rendering the Rogers Centre diagrams.) The ramps are now several feet wider than they were in the previous (2019) diagrams, and this affects the profile as well as the top-down diagrams. Several other minor details were corrected as well, and the arches that line the roof are now rendered more accurately than before. As usual, you can compare the new and old versions by clicking on the diagram on that page.
NOTE: Someone asked me about the bright green line parallel to the first base line in the 1966 diagram, but the answer to that mystery can be found in the text on the Busch Stadium II page. When the field was grass in the early years (1960s), there was a thin strip of artificial turf that concealed an underground roll of tarpaulin. It's the same thing that Forbes Field had in its latter years, but on the opposite side of the diamond.