Written by Grant Paulsen:
In business and in sports, the best way to determine what you are made of is to experience adversity. A preseason favorite to represent the National League in the World Series, the Washington Nationals (52-56) finished July eleven games out of first place and 7.5 games off the wild card pace. In the wake of a 10-run loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, they had hit rock bottom and that’s when the Nationals found true leadership.
Bryce Harper, who spoke up after Washington’s most recent loss to demand that his team needed to play with more heart, and remain together, turned in this week’s Pivotal Play. The 20 year-old showed the savvy of a 10-year veteran, accentuating the Nationals’ nine remaining games with first-place Atlanta while stating that the club’s season is not over.
It would have been very easy for Harper to begin to accept that his team is having a bad year. But he isn’t willing to do that. Rather, he is responding to a rough stretch with the type of character that winning organizations in sports and businesses need to succeed. How are you going to respond to adversity? How will you react when something goes horribly wrong within your workplace? Harper decided he was going to lead, first vocally and then with his actions.
The second-year superstar turned in this week’s Pivotal Play by displaying the type of will that it takes to overcome difficulty. Now we’ll see just how much of an impact his motivational pep-talk has on the performance of his colleagues.
This week’s Pivotal Play was turned in by the decision-making brass who sits atop the Washington Nationals’ front office.
In sports, and in business, it can be easy to make decisions that can benefit you in the short term while taking on long-term risk. Anyone can cash in on immediate benefits at the expense of the future. It takes a methodical, calculated leader to make executive decisions with the best long-term interest of a company, or team, in mind. Anymore, in our current “one click,” society — where status is based on recent accomplishments and the present seems to matter way more than the future — the idea is to win now, worry later. Spend today, save tomorrow.
The Nationals very easily could have allowed right-handed pitcher, Jordan Zimmermann to pitch in Tuesday night’s all-star game. Zimmermann would’ve benefited by showcasing his elite skills in front of a national, and world wide, audience. The team would’ve generated a boost from another of its players participating in the mid-summer classic.
Zimmermann working an inning would’ve been a great night for the entire Washington organization. Because Zimmermann has been experiencing pain in his neck, the Nationals decided to prohibit him from throwing in the glorified exhibition. The decision wasn’t the easiest, but it was the right call.
If Washington is going to turn its season around and overtake the Braves in the NL East, it will have happened because the club’s starting pitcher dominated in the second half. That cannot occur if Zimmermann, Washington’s most consistent front-of-the-rotation horse, isn’t hurling seven stellar innings every fifth day.
He has been regularly better than Stephen Strasburg and more reliable than Gio Gonzalez. If the former second round pick were to miss any time, the Nationals would be in trouble. So what’s more important? Having Zimmermann spike his popularity and reverence at the all-star game, or insuring his health for the looming stretch run?
The Nats made the right call, and in doing so earned this week’s Pivotal Play. Now they have to go catch the Braves.
This week’s Pivotal Play was turned in by Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce HarperThe 20 year-old has been a national baseball celebrity since he first appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16. Now, in his second major league season, Harper has become one of Major League Baseball’s most revered stars.
Harper was nominated to participate in the Home Run Derby this week, selected to represent the National League with three other powerful sluggers. The youngest player to ever be named to start in the All-Star Game, Harper could have turned down the derby request.
Several players have declined home run derby invites over the years for various reasons. Some players did not want to ruin their swing by spending a night tweaking their mechanics just to try to hit home runs. Other elite hitters have said no to the request because struggling on a worldwide stage when you’re all alone in the batters box can be a petrifying proposition. But Harper isn’t worried about failure, and that’s part of what makes him so special.
The outfielder’s decision to participate in Monday night’s Home Run Derby is this week’s Pivotal Play because it will give Harper another opportunity to accentuate his meteoric rise on a massive stage.
He will have an opportunity to be baseball’s most talked about performers for an entire night in front of millions of fans watching from around the world and dozens of the sports premiere players at Citi Field in New York.
This week’s Pivotal Play was turned in by the Washington Nationals’ starting rotation. Washington has won four of its last five games to get back over the .500 mark, and the team’s pitching staff has played a massive role in the recent hot stretch (allowing just nine total runs in four victories).
Whatever the Nats accomplish in 2013 will be thanks to the club’s well-built rotation, which had hit a recent rough patch based on injuries to Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwilwer and a turbulent couple of months from fifth starter Dan Haren.
In the past week, ace-right Jordan Zimmermann twirled seven shutout innings of eight-strikeout ball and minor league call-up Ross Ohlendorf worked six one-run innings in his Nationals debut. On Thursday, Detwiler returned from the disabled list to pitch five quality innings in a victory as well.
Winning consecutive games to get back over .500 is important for a Nationals team that isn’t allowing being 5.5 games out of first place to alter extremely lofty preseason expectations. The club’s recent starting pitching surge – is this week’s Pivotal Play — will give Nats’ fans hope that the team is about to awaken from a season-long slumber.
The first round of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft was held on Thursday night. Thirty-three picks were made by big league clubs looking to add talent to their farm systems that will shape the direction of baseball’s 30 organizations for years to come.
Despite the fact that the Nationals have been one of baseball’s free spending teams over the past several years, Washington was one of the few teams that didn’t have a first round pick to make on Thursday night.
The Nats surrendered their first round pick, which would have come late in the inaugural round, when the club signed veteran reliever Rafael Soriano. Not making a first round pick was a vast departure from what has become normal for a Nationals’ front office that has emphasized player development and the draft over the past several years.
Signing Soriano – a closer who has posted a 2.74 ERA through 23 appearances so far this season – at the expense of making an opening round pick was a major offseason decision for Mike Rizzo. It is also this week’s Pivotal Play.
The fact is that Soriano has pitched very well for Washington this season, successfully converting 15 of 18 save chances while holding opponents to a .230 batting average against. The 33 year-olds 1.04 WHIP and miniscule walk rate (just four walks in 23 innings) is an indication of just how frequently Soriano has pelted the strike zone in the late innings for the Nationals.
Even with the upgrade of Soriano to a bullpen that was already deemed stellar when he was signed, Washington’s relief pitching corps has underachieved. Where would the team be without him?
Let’s say Rizzo had decided that he didn’t want to spend the record money it took to lure the right-hander to DC and he was not willing to forfeit a top-round pick, would the Nats be in even worse shape than they are, at a game under .500? Probably so.
With Drew Storen scuffling, Zach Duke having been designated for assignment, and Ryan Mattheus on the disabled list, the Nationals’ once deep bullpen has become thinner than anticipated. But Soriano has proven durable and reliable, and his consistency has salvaged the team’s late inning productivity.
By not picking in the first round Washington needs to find a gem outside of the draft’s top 33 players. Mike Rizzo and his scouting staff – who once drafted ace starter Jordan Zimmermann in the second round – feel confident that they will be able to do just that.
Would it have been nice for the Nats to have made a pick in the first round last night? Of course. But the Pivotal Play to sign Soriano has benefitted the team, even during a disappointing start to the 2013 season.