I don’t usually need a reason to watch the Nationals, or baseball in general. It’s baseball, why wouldn’t I watch? But not everyone is like me, and if you’re a more casual Nats fan who is disappointed in the last few games, or last few seasons, well, there’s still a reason to watch today. That reason is John Smoltz.
He’s the Smoltziest
Smoltz will be a member of the Hall of Fame, that is not in doubt. He is one of the best pitchers of his time, and any time you have a chance to see that, I think you should be watching. It’s easier to recognize these things when players are at the end of their careers, but baseball is an individual sport in many ways, and seeing the best individuals is a great way to see the game. And Smoltz, for the last 2 decades, has been one of the best.
Smoltzy’s career began in 1988, the season after Tom Glavine got called up. The Braves finished 54-106 that year. The next 2 years they didn’t win more than 70 a season, but Smoltz managed to win 26 games those 2 years. Then in 1991 they finished in first place in the NL East. 2 years later, in 1993, they signed Greg Maddux and for the next 7 years the 3 of them dominated the NL as a starting trio. In that 1993-1999 span, Smoltz managed 100 wins and only 59 losses. In 2000 came an injury and a move to the bullpen, where he excelled once again.
In his career so far he’s got 210 wins, that’s with taking those 4 years off to close and amass 154 saves. That puts him first in terms of wins for the 100 win, 100 save club. Eckersly is the only other guy with 150 wins and 100 saves. Distant 3rd place for wins in that group, by the way, goes to former Washington Senator and 1924 World Series Champion Firpo Marberry (148W/101S). Over his career, Smoltz has a 3.26 ERA, 3011 K to 992 BB, a Cy Young award, 8 All Star appearances, 3 NL Pennants and a World Series ring.
This will also be Smoltz’s first appearance not representing the Atlanta Braves. He’s spent 20 seasons there, and for his 21st, he’ll be a Red Sox (Sock? I never know how to individualize that). But he didn’t leave the Braves, they left him. He wasn’t done, but they were through with him. That isn’t to elicit sympathy, or anger towards Atlanta – Boston of all teams knows what it’s like to part with guys if they are finished with them. But it will be interesting to see how he pitches. He could be effective for several more years, or this could be the beginning of the end, and a signal that the HOF induction will be 5 summers from now.
Meanwhile, the parallels are intriguing for the pitching matchup. Going for the Nats will be Jordan Zimmermann, a pitching prospect much like Smoltz was back in 1988. He’s throwing for a bad team, and while his numbers aren’t spectacular, he is showing the kind of promise that leads people to think he might be part of a strong trio. Will Zimmermann-Strasburg-Detwiler become the Smoltz-Glavine-Maddux for the Nats? Well, nobody is expecting all 3 to have HOF careers, but this kind of starting pitching is exactly what the Braves used to turn their hapless franchise around and win a billion straight NL East titles.
So watch this game for the history: John Smoltz will be in the Hall of Fame, it will be enjoyable to remember what he looked like on the mound. Watch this game for the future: Zimmermann could be an integral part of a great future Nationals team. Their success will be highly dependent on his.
Besides, Smoltz hasn’t pitched in a major league game in like, 14 months, maybe the Nats will rock him.