Riggleman Riggles Out Of Job
WILL WASHINGTON WILT AFTER MANAGER FLEES THE FRANCHISE?
It was certainly one of the most surprising developments of the season. Washington Nationals manager Jim Riggleman resigned as manager just after a series sweep of the Seattle Mariners that brought the Nats to 11-1 the last 12 games!
Who resigns when a team is RED HOT?!!
Riggleman did. And, it actually makes a lot of sense if you think about it.
*Washington really isn't very good. They've been winning more than their fair share of close games lately, with proven innings munchers like Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis pitching a bit over their heads. You don't win championships with guys like that. It's tough to break .500 over a season with a pitching staff that's not going to scare people. Riggleman knew this, and realized he would never have more leverage for a contract extension.
*Washington's offense is one of the worst in baseball. They were hitting just .235 entering the weekend, ranking 28th of 30 Major League teams. That magnified the importance of Riggleman's leverage. He knew this was basically a 70-92 type team (or worse) that was riding high on temporary good fortune.
*Washington's front office had made it reasonably clear that Riggleman was an 'interim' manager even if he had been there a few years. His job was to steady the ship until all the ducks were in a row. Should the Nationals ever get those ducks in a row, they'd hire a bigger name to try and push them into the divisional race. Riggleman saw an opportunity to change that line of thinking…and wasn't really interested in just stepping aside meekly if the time ever came.
*Washington had just finished a nine-game homestand, and was about to embark on a tough six game road trip to face the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels of the American League. Any chance he had at earning a better contract could easily disappear if the Nats turned back into a pumpkin on that trip.
It was 'now or never' in terms of making a stand for Riggleman. The front office didn't appreciate the posturing, and figured it wasn't that hard to find anotheplace-taker for the time being. If Florida can hire 80-year old Jack McKeon as a temporary fix, Washington could probably do the same with Newt Gingrich or anyone else hanging around the neighborhood.
In terms of handicapping, this presents an interesting challenge. How will the Washington players respond? Were they fond of Riggleman and stunned that the front office wouldn't back him up? Did the whole experience re-inforce that 2011 is basically irrelevant to the bosses, so there's no reason to bring intensity to the park every day? What happens to an offense that hits .235 WHEN TRYING if they lose their intensity?
We could see this blowing up in either direction. It's not like Washington is going to get hotter than they were. The Nats were already playing over their heads. But, they can still play well enough to offer value against a market that's been disrespecting them all year anyway. Washington was neck-and-neck with Philadelphia on the moneyline entering weekend series at +8.5 units for the season. That trailed only Arizona at the top of the NL charts. Should handicappers look for a mad team to keep playing well. Or, should handicappers expect a shellshocked team to fall apart?
The good news from the Nats perspective is that the upcoming schedule isn't particularly brutal. After this AL road trip, Washington is looking at:
Home vs. Pittsburgh (4 games)
Home vs. Chicago Cubs (3 games)
Home vs. Colorado (3 games)
At Atlanta (3 games)
At Houston (3 games)
At LA Dodgers (3 games)
Home vs. Florida (3 games)
Home vs. NY Mets (3 games)
It's not a cakewalk…but any sampling of games that includes the Pirates, Cubs, Astros, and Marlins is cause for celebration right now. Maybe Washington can keep things going through the end of July. That home series against the Mets will wrap up that month and bring us to August.
Can a team collapse against the Cubs and Astros? If you're beating Seattle, St. Louis (along with Baltimore and San Diego), shouldn't you be able to at least hold your own against that 25-game non-gauntlet?
We'll be watching Saturday and Sunday games against the White Sox very closely for guidance about what to do in the coming days and weeks with the Nats (note that parts of the country will see that game on FOX Saturday afternoon). Here are other storylines we're following in select series this weekend:
*Will Cincinnati snap out of its recent offensive slump in Baltimore, putting them back in the NL Central race just as St. Louis deals with the loss of Albert Pujols, and Milwaukee deals with a brutal schedule stretch? Or, are the Reds on the wrong side of their surge, and 2010 was a peak for this managerial team?
*Will Boston regain its focus after dropping two of three to the horrible San Diego Padres? The Red Sox were on quite a tear for several weeks. The loss of Carl Crawford shouldn't hurt them too bad because he wasn't having a great year anyway. Is that a misread?
*Is St. Louis finally adjusting to life without Pujols? The offense was dormant vs. a couple of Philadelphia aces…but then exploded versus Roy Oswalt. Toronto pitching will provide a good test for what happens when not facing Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee!
*How is Florida responding to their managerial change? Nobody should play as bad as Florida has through the month of June. Now, they're dealing with a strange schedule quirk that has them 'hosting' a series IN SEATTLE!
And, of course, we're staying on top of the dynamic Interleague situation that saw the AL slaughter the NL last weekend (as we discussed in our Monday report) only to see the Nationals come storming back to respectability through the week. And, that was with top NL teams Philadelphia and St. Louis playing each other! We'll catch up with the IL record once again this Monday.
Every team has a story. Every starting pitcher has a rhythm. Handicapping baseball relies very heavily on understanding those stories and recognizing the rhythms. JIM HURLEY has shown over the years that he's a true master at that. Many of you have been making big money with him all season. The rest need to get on board and GET THE MONEY!
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Back tomorrow to run through a favorite offensive indicator stat of ours that will paint a very accurate picture of all 30 teams' run scoring attacks. We'll update the battle between the leagues on Monday…and baseball coverage will continue daily for the foreseeable future until we start our college football conference previews that are a July tradition here in the NOTEBOOK.
Be sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on in the world of sports!
This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.
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