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John Patterson Keeps It Close, Nick Johnson Gives Nats The Lead, Chad Cordero Saves The Day

Baseball fans in Washington waited 34 years for games like tonight's Nationals - Braves tilt. It was worth the wait.

Although Chad Cordero gave up a homerun for the second consecutive game, this time to 48 year old Julio Franco, he showed that even when he didn't have his good stuff, his stuff is still good enough. With Andruw Jones on 3rd and Johnny Estrada on 1st with only one out, Cordero struck out pinch hitter Bryan swinging and Rafael Furcal looking to save his 13th game in 15 chances. Cordero's ERA has "ballooned" from 0.78 to 1.44 in the last two games. No sweat. We'll take it.

Things looked very shaky in the first inning, as John Patterson, pitching for the first time since coming off the disabled list, gave up a single to Rafael Furcal to lead off the game. Rookie Kelly Johnson and first baseman Adam LaRoche walked during the inning as well. Patterson bore down and allowed only one run to score on a Chipper Jones groundout. From that point, Patterson was lights out, retiring the last 13 batters he faced before pitch count issues forced him out of the game in the 5th inning. He had a no decision.

Things looked bleak in the 6th inning. After getting two quick outs, C.J. Nitkowski gave up a 4 pitch walk to Kelly Johnson and a long double to Chipper Jones to make the score 2-0. Manager Frank Robinson brought in T.J. Tucker who allowed a Julio Franco single that scored the second run of the game, making it 3-0. Behind three runs with three innings to go: not exactly the situation where the Nats shine. But this time, they did.

Granted, it looked like the Nationals should have done better. Washington loaded the bases with nobody out before Marlon Byrd grounded into a double play, scoring one run Gary Barnett then singled off of Rafael Furcal's glove scoring the second run of the inning. The Nats continued their come from behind effort, scoring three more runs in the 7th to make the score 5-3. It stayed that way until Chad Cordero gave up Franco's homerun in the 9th.

After losing five straight and 7 of 9 on their road trip, the Nationals have now won two straight against the Braves and find themselves only 1 1/2 games out of first. The team, who just a few days ago was getting pummeled by the press and the blogosphere is again the darling of the community. Funny how that works.

Why Was Mike Hampton So Good, Where Did He Go, And Why Is He Back [With A Vengeance]?

Mike Hampton woke up the morning after the 2003 season and ended and hoped it was all a nightmare. It wasn't. It was Denver that was the nightmare, and it was very real. Hampton had in two years gone from one of the premier pitchers in the National League to one of the worst.

After being traded from the Houston Astros to the New York Mets in 2000, Hampton put together yet another quality year, winning 15 games with an ERA just over 3.00. This was his free agent year, and he was considered to be THE free agent pitcher that fall. He was told, "Go anywhere you want but Denver. You'll never survive there." Of course, it was the Rockies that offered the most money, and Hampton believed his sinker would keep him safe at Coors Field. Hampton took the money and ran.

At first, things went well. He was 6-2 with an ERA under 4.00, and even hit a couple of home runs. But by June, things fell apart. After June 15th, Hampton ran up a record of 8-11 with an ERA over 7.00. 2002 was worse, as Hampton lost what little confidence he had left. He won 7 games and saw his ERA climb to 6.15. By the end of the season, he was an overpriced commodity that no one wanted. He couldn't pitch anymore, and he was getting paid buckets of money to pitch poorly. One team wanted him, but couldn't come up with the right combination of players to trade for him. Enter the Marlins.

The Rockies, happy to rid themselves of their big mistake, traded Hampton and Juan Pierre to the Marlins for Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson, The next day, Hampton was dealt to the Braves for Tim Spooneybarger. The Marlins & Rockies ate the majority of Hampton's contract. It wasn't much of a gamble for a team with a track record of resurrecting arms.

Hampton's first few starts with the Braves were eerily similar to those with the Rockies. Slowly though, his confidence and his ability returned. With Atlanta, Hampton has amassed a record of 31-18 with an ERA of just under 4.00. Sure, he at times reverts to the Rockies pitcher that couldn't get anyone out, but those types of games are fewer and farther between each year.

Mike Hampton is just 32, and has learned his lesson about big free agent dollars. He has seen what has happened just this year to Jaret Wright and Paul Byrd when they left the proven system of the Atlanta Braves. No, he'll hang his hat with the Braves for the rest of his career, providing Atlanta a quality number two pitcher for sometime to come.

Why Seattle, Houston and New York gave up on him is beyond me. Sure, he walks too many batters, but he always seems to come back and shut the opposition down. Hampton's way of pitching isn't beautiful, but it gets the job done.

Good for you Mike Hampton. I wish you well. Just not tonight.

Foul Pole Call Only Fair, Helps Nats Win

I can hear the shrieking from down yonder on I-95 already. If they get Brian Jordan's home run call right, then the game was tied in the 9th inning on Andruw Jones' towering homer to left center, and, who knows, we might still be playing. I hear you, I hear you. We'll get to that later.

The Washington Nationals withstood Andruw Jones' 9th inning homerun and beat the Atlanta Braves, 3-2 in front of 40,000 Memorial day fans at RFK. To be sure, there will be no "The Nats have put aside their problems that have plagued them the past two weeks" headlines in any of the local papers tomorrow morning. Twice, Johnny Estrada threw a Nationals baserunner out at second. Both times, he was out by a proverbial mile. With runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out, Jose Guillen tried to score from 3rd on a hard chopper to Rafael Furcal, who probably has the strongest arm in the major leagues. Out by the proverbial mile. Jamie Carroll missed a ground ball that should have resulted in a double play, and Vinny Castilla misplayed a chopper to 3rd with the bases loaded, allowing an unearned run to come home from 3rd base. They are still having problems scoring runs with runners on base, as another eight runners were left on today. Christian Guzman left four of those runners on himself.

The truth is, without another quality outing by Tomo Ohka, this game likely would have been another loss. Over seven innings, Ohka allowed only one unearned run and three hits, walking four and recording no strikeouts. Ohka should be Zach Day's poster child. Just like Day, Ohka was very bad to begin the season. Just like Day, Ohka found himself in manager Frank Robinson's dog house and out of the starting rotation. However, unlike Day, Ohka took his problems with the respect typical of the Japanese. He remained silent and respectful, and after producing well in a mop-up roll, was back where he was in April.

OK, back to that home run that was, then wasn't. It was. No question, that after the fourth replay, it became obvious the ball hit the lower part of the foul pole behind the fence. So that run, plus Andruw's in the 9th makes it a tie game. Right? I watched the game on TBS, and that ball that Cordero threw was right down the heart of the plate -- Andruw better have belted it out of RFK. But no one should think for one second that if this was a one run game that Cordero would have been using the middle of the plate. With a two run lead, pitchers are told not to nibble, to throw strikes and if the guy whacks it he whacks it. Big deal. That's exactly what happened. With the game 3-2, Cordero again went to work on the corners and got the next batter to fly out to end the game. So, the wrong call really didn't make much of a difference. It only changed the way that Cordero pitched to Jones.

Brad Wilkerson continues to do what he does best: strike out and hit doubles. Wilkerson struck out two more times and added to his league leading double total. Please, someone put him fifth in the lineup. Jamie Carroll is running out of gas, really really fast. His average, which was well over .300 when that road trip from hell started, is now at 252. Jose Vidro can't come back fast enough. Nick Johnson continues to impress, getting 3 more hits, 2 of them doubles, and raising his average to .317. Marlon Byrd continues to impress, possibly ensconcing himself into the permanent starting lineup. Byrd got 2 RBI doubles and is now hitting .354. Endy Chavez, on the other hand, is hitting .179 for the Phillies. Chavez has walked twice and has an OBP of .293. I really think we traded a guy who will be out of the league in 2007 for a player who might be a starter for the next decade. Go figure. Tomorrow night, John Patterson goes against Mike Hampton.

Nats Stop Slide, Head Home Happy

Hopefully, Sunday afternoon's win will muzzle the countless Nationals fans [?] who seem to enjoy bashing the team when they're done. And brother, they've been down for quite a while.

Livan Hernandez again showed himself to be the National's only true stopper as he pitched seven strong innings, giving up seven hits and two runs while striking out three. Livan reduced his ERA for the fifth straight game. It now stands at 3.61.

Brad Wilkerson hit three doubles to lead a still sputtering offense. The Nationals got nine hits off of Cardinals pitchers but had trouble bringing them home. Another ten runners were left on base. Chad Cordero saved the game, notching is 11th of the year out of 13th chances. His ERA is now a rediculous 0.78

That said, this game was not about doubles, clutch pitching or good defense. No, it was all about getting the "monkey" off of the team's back. They return to Washington with a win, and begin their homestand tomorrow afternoon against the Atlanta Braves.

Hope is back in the National's venacular. Cool


In the mid 1990s, I developed the beginnings of a back disease that has stayed with me to this day. But when it hit, it hit hard. At first, I was missing an hour here, an hour there at work. I ran a camera store, and I was really the only one with the experience deep enough to make the place run smoothly consistently and smoothly. My missed time didn't matter too much. That is, until the hour here and there turned into days here and there, and then weeks at a time. No question my illness hurt the store. Sales volume dropped more than 20% during the first two months that I missed consistent time. Customer complaints were up because I wasn't there to calm them down. Things really turned for the worse when the doctors told me I couldn't work at all for two months. By this time, sales were down more than 30% from the same period the year before.

What should the owners have done? Gotten mad at me? Fired me? Pressured me to the point that I would disregard the doctors order and come back to work? No. They supported me whole heartedly, told me to take all the time I needed, and paid me my salary even though I had run out of sick leave weeks before. Loyalty. It's an amazing thing. Once healthy, I returned to work with a vengeance, and within a year, my store had made up all the lost income and then some.

Do you see where I'm going here?

Let's look at some facts regarding this tough time for the Nationals:

Sometimes, bad things just happen to good teams. The Nationals have lost as much confidence as they have talent on the field. The combination of those two problems has created a team that will struggle to win for some time to come.

It gets worse. Tomorrow, the Nationals play host to the Atlanta Braves, who are again blistering hot. All the Nats can do is their best. Their is no money to bolster the sagging roster. All we can do is bring up minor leaguers from teams that are pretty much all in the basements of their divisions and hope they are ready to help the big club.

Such is the life of Being a low payroll team. But remember, come fall, all of these problems become moot.


Can Nats Right Ship In Choppy Mississippi?

.500 has been a number that most of us serious Nationals fans take very seriously. There is, in fact, an algebraic equation that sums up the Nats and their hopes for 2005: ta + b - i = 1/2gp.
I'll translate: talent available + breaks - injuries = a .500 season. There is enough talent that the team should end up somewhere near .500 come September.

For the past 10 games or so, the talent available has just not produced. The breaks that were coming our way aren't right now. Injuries have become excessive and finishing around .500 is looking a little iffy. Talk about breaks. The series that came closest to a "do or die" senario this early in the season came against the Cardinals in St. Louis as the entire Cardinal team was heating up.

Tonight, Esteban Loiaza goes against one of the few mortal Cardinal pitchers, Jeff Suppan. For the year, Suppan is 3-5 with an ERA of 4.38. this is a matchup that is certainly winnable for the Nationals, who need these next two games very badly. However, remember that it's the bad pitchers that the Nats seem to have the most problems with.

No, it's not the end of the world if Washington leaves St. Louis 24-26. But imagine the mental affect of so many injuries, so many slumps, and now, so many losses. They need to come up with some magic tonight, and again tomorrow. Take two out of three against the mighty Cardinals, and the pain of being swept by the lowly Reds, while not forgotten, will be lessened.

C'mon boys. Tighten your belts and roll up your sleeves. Don't blame the manager and forget the injuries. Do your best and we'll be happy.
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ROSTER WARS: Revenge Of The Stiff

A quarter way into the season, with several positives to be pleased with, but several more negatives to be concerned about, the first major restructuring of the Washington Nationals has occurred. It came at a time when the team sits at the precipice between a good first season and a bad one. To be sure, most all of the negatives were uncontrollable, be it a bad break or a bad outing. Regardless, GM Jim Bowden showed that he will not allow poor play to continue, regardless of the reasons.

Many of my fellow bloggers, and a few of the columnists in the local papers, have begun to question manager Frank Robinson's style, that he is to blame for many of the players problems. When you have 25 players on a roster, there will always be some chafing between personalities. But for every Zach Day who has had a bad year under Robinson, there is a Nick Johnson who is excelling. I personally favor Robinson's "yank 'em before they sink you" mentality. The chance of a pitcher who has given up 5 runs in the first 2 innings to suddenly find his "stuff" is minimal. Put in a pitcher who will give you a chance to win. No, the blame for this first "freefall" of the season doesn't lay at the feet of the manager.

And, hey folks, it's not like we're Tampa Bay, or Kansas City, or the Rockies.

The Nationals made nine roster moves on Thursday in an attempt to shake up a team who is just not getting the job done. Let's look at these moves:

In the words of that famous British game show host, "You are the weakest link. Good bye!" Vargas was recalled from New Orleans and pitched brilliantly in his first game for Washington, giving up but one unearned run in six innings of workagainst Arizona. It's been downhill from there. He [likely] ended his career with a 2005 record of 0-3 and an ERA of 9.23. He went from brilliant to bum in two innings. He has been designated for "assignment," meaning he could be traded, released or demoted. Regardless, he'll never see RFK again wearing the red, blue and gold of Washington

This was the hardest transaction to watch unfold. Day has always been considered a pitcher of tremendous potential, someone who would someday finally break out and win 16 games in a season. Day tantalized first the Montreal fans, then us, with a game here and there where he utterly dominated the opposition. Those games, however, were always the exception, and not the rule. His scouting report on the TSN website describes a pitcher with a 97mph fast ball and a sinker from "hell." The report concludes that Day will be a #2 or #3 "top of the rotation" pitcher for "a long time." Well, maybe in New Orleans, but not in Washington. For the season, Day was 1-2 with an ERA of 6.75 before being sent down. His career numbers showed that potential described in his scouting report. Day is 19-21 with an ERA just over 4.00. This was to be the year that he broke out and saw his stats match his ability. In fact, I wrote a column in February where I said that Day was the "x" factor for the team, that a good season by him would equal a good season for the Nationals. It just wasn't meant to be.

T.J. Tucker - Pitcher
Before being injured, Tucker pitched in six games and five innings earlier in the season, giving up no runs and striking out two. For his career, Tucker is 13-9 with an ERA of 4.35. He has three good pitches and commands all 3 very well. He can be combatative on the mound, and rarely gives up regardless of the pitch count or the situation. His weight can be a problem at times, and because his fastball barely reaches 90mph, he has to have control of his other pitches or he'll be whacked on a regular basis.

Godwin was a Rule V draftee from the Blue Jays organization last year. If you're looking for power, forget. Godwin has 10 career minor league home runs in more than 1200 at basts. For Godwin, its all about speed, having stolen almost 90 stolen bases in the minor leagues. The Nationals are very high on Godwin, but wanted him to spend the year in New Orleans piling up the at bats. They just couldn't afford to keep him there any longer -- the offense is just to bad.

With a career record of 7-9 and an ERA of over 5.00, it begins to make sense that he has spent the first quarter of the season at AAA New Orleans. He has, however, done everything asked of him, as he comes to D.C. with a winning record and an ERA under 3.00, very hard to do in the offensive minded Pacific Coast League. Kim has a fast ball that tops out in the mid 90s range, a nice curve and a good straight change. He's good with runners on base, but his mind tends to drift when the bases are empty. Good coming out of the bull pen, but his pitches are those of a starter.

Also, pitcher John Patterson was placed on the disabled list and outfielder Termel Sledge was placed on the 60 day DL, though he WILL be out for the rest of the year. Jon Rauch's torn labrum will likely keep him out for the season as well.

None of these moves will change the fate of the Nationals for 2005. These are all small parts of a large puzzle, individuals who can help but not enough to make a real difference. These moves were more of a wake up call to the players on the team, a 2X4 to the forehead to grab their attention.

That said, is there any less chance that the Nats won't get sweeped this weekend in St. Louis? Probably not. And that's the problem

Nats Back Moving Van To Door, Make Wholesale Changes

A couple of nights ago, I wrote an article that suggested that Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden had some decisions to make. Either they needed to shore up the team and continue to try to have a respectable season, or blow up the team now and begin the process of retooling for the future. both possibilities made sense, and both carried with them significant drawbacks.

I didn't take long for Trader Jim to go get some dynamite.

Some of his moves were in reaction to the continuing injury problems. Starting pitcher John Patterson and relief man John Rauch were both placed on the disabled list, bringing the Nats DL to a major league leading 11 [T.J. Tucker has since come off the list].

In desperate need of a left hander coming out of the bull pen, Bowden signed veteran C.J. Nitkowski off the waiver wire. Nitkowski, who hadn't pitched this year in the majors, had been cast aside by the Pirates, which makes you wonder that if he wasn't good enough for Pittsburgh, why would he be good enough for Washington? To make room for Nitkowski, Claudio Vargas was designated for assignment, likely ending his association with the team. Also called up from AAA New Orleans was outfielder Tyrell Godwin and pitcher Sunny Kim. T.J. Tucker was activated from the DL, and pitcher Zach Day was sent down to New Orleans. My guess is this was the last time we'll see Day in a Nationals' uniform. He'll likely be traded off the New Orleans roster by the end of the summer. Termel Sledge was also transferred from the 15 to the 60 day disabled list.

We wondered how the Nationals would react to the recent slide by the "boys." Would the team, like so many, go weeks or months before considering a change, or would they act in a quick and decisive manner?

Quick. Decisive. I like that. Vargas had to go. Day had to go. Kim was pitching very well at New Orleans, and Godwin was doing a good job with the bat. Bowden made the moves; now let's see if they amount to anything.

You would think that, following a sweep at the hands of the lowly Cincinnati Reds, The Washington Nationals would be excited to get out of town and move one to the next city down the road. Well, not when the next city down the road is St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Cardinals.

The Reds were the team Washington should have beaten up on, then traveled to St. Louis and hope to win one out of three at Busch Memorial Stadium. The Nats now face the Herculean task of having to win at least two game during this weekend series to remain around the .500 mark. Don't count on it. "It" happened again.

Team officials announced this morning that John Patterson, the number two pitcher on an already depleted staff, has been placed on the disabled list because his injury was not healing fast enough. Outfielder Tyrel Godwin will likely be promoted from AAA New Orleans this afternoon.

So, going into the Cardinals home park, the Nationals, who have lost 5 out of their last 6 games, could very well leave Missouri in an outright nosedive. It must be underscored, however, that this is not the fault of the players, or the management, or any part of the Washington Nationals. The team has been attacked by a near fatal rash of injuries, more than any team I have ever seen in my almost 40 years of being a baseball fan. I am afraid that these injuries, and to be certain there will be more, might cost the team 10 games or more in the win column. Thus, a team that might have won 85 games may now only win 70-75. However, there is a bright side.

By the end of this season, the Nats will likely have had six starting outfielders, two starting second baseman, two shortstops, and seven or more starting pitchers. This will have given manager Frank Robinson and GM Jim Bowden ample time to observe in game conditions many different players and player combinations. Come fall, a new owner's money and trader Jim's acumen will create a newer and better team for 2006.

And that's a pretty good thing.

Let's Play Hardball

I'm Chris Matthews ... let's play Hardball ... boy talk about not playing hardball ... The Nationals suck ... I mean, God, we had to wait 34 years for this for goodness sake Holy Cow, I grew up in Philly, big Phillies fan, I was a Phillies fan, and, though you won't believe I'm old enough to remember them, I liked the A's too, we called the the Athletics, that's because I'm from Philadelphia; so anyway, I was at RFK Stadium, wow, what great memories that place must bring back for native Washingtonians, *Hah* like there is such a thing, I watched the the Nats play the Diamondbacks, I think they were from Phoenix or somewhere outside of Pennsylvania, so it really doesn't matter, and the Nationals actually swept them, they swept them, they won all the games, wow, but now they got swept By the Reds, they play in Cinncinati, and man, they suck!; I mean they reminded me of old Tom Dewey in 1948, but I wasn't there, the Nuns, the Nuns, *hah* the Nuns, oh God they were great, the Nuns, they taught me my history in Catholic school; I remember Shibe Park so very well, with that tall right field fence and the seats on the houses across the street, but then old man Shibe built that "spite" fence so you couldn't see the game from those houses *Hah* only in Philly only in Philly, God I could use a Philly steak sandwich right now; Let's go to Frank Robinson, manager of the Expos, uh, Nationals, *Hah* like I'm the only one whose ever done that, so Frank, former Red, Oriole, Dodger, Indian, wow, I hope you got frequent flier miles *Hah* so Frank, the Nationals suck and I hear you'll be canned soon, whadya think?
Frank Robinson: Well, Chris ...
*Hah* that's priceless Frank, Franki, Franko, first manager of color, wow, but not the first colorful manager *hah* that Casey Stengel, oh God, he was great, colorful, funny, man that guy could talk * hah* Franki will join us after we return; we're playing Hardball, and the Nationals are not! *Hah* I'm priceless .....

Time To Take Clinical Look At Nationals 2005 Season

That the Cinncinati Reds swept the Washington Nationals is disconcerting, of course. But a single series in a long season is too small a sampling to worry about. These things happen. But with the season now at the quarter poll, let's take a look at how we've done, and where we've headed. The stats shown next to the players are projected numbers for the 2005 season based on their performances thus far.
1B] Nick Johnson
.317 - 25 - 89 -- 96BB - 126K - .426OBP - .512SLG

Nick's effort thus far translates into a nice season. Although his homerun and RBI numbers are sub-par for is position, his on base and slugging percentage are very good.
What to do with Johnson: Mix in his potentially golden glove, and Nick Johnson has earned his place among the better first baseman in the league.
2B] Jose Vido
.290 - 21 - 77 -- 67BB - 57K - .365OBP - .510SLG
These numbers assume that Vidro would begin playing again tomorrow, which of course isn't going to happen. However, when he does return in about 10 days, I do believe that he will approach these numbers anyway.
What to do with Vidro: Although many think of him as "old," he is only 31 and has another five good years left. No question Jose needs to continue to be part of this team.
SS]Christian Guzman
.188 - 4 - 22 -- 29BB - 100K - .227OBP - .240SLG
Um. Does anyone else see a problem here? After 6 very similar seasons with the Twins, Guzman leaves one of the few remaining bastians of Astroturf and loses 50 or so points off his batting average, and his doubles and triples almost dry up, again a product of the quickness of artificial turf. I don't think he'll end up hitting .188 -- more likely, we'll seem in the low .220s before the season is concluded.
What to do with Guzman: He is never going to help the Nationals as Bowden envisioned, and will never return to the Christian Guzman who played for the Twins. With Guzman in the lineup, there are automatic outs in both the 8 and 9 holes in the lineup. Either trade him now [no real chance there] or demote him to backup, or release him and make Jamie Carroll the interim shortstop until Ian Desmond shows whether he is a major leaguer or not.
3B]Vinny Castilla
.286 - 15 - 91 -- 65BB - 69K - .364OBP - .468SLG
Vinny Castilla is the success story of Jim Bowden's free agent signings. Virtually all his numbers are below that of a quality 3rd baseman, but he is nonetheless far superior to what the Expos had at 3rd last year, and his defense makes him a very productive member of the Nationals.
What to do with Castilla: Castilla is a lock at 3rd for the rest of the year, but next year is more "iffy." If the Nationals continue to try to hover around the .500 mark, then Vinny will likely be at the hot corner in 2006. But what of Brendan Harris? Though his defense is not nearly as good, his play at every level suggests a .280-25-95 type of player. The only way he'll ever get better is to play every day. Let Vinny play out the year and keep him on the bench next year in case Harris falters. At his small salary, he might be traded next year to a contending team suffering an injury at third base. He will be 39 next year. We have to be prepared.
LF]Brad Wilkerson
.276 - 11 - 63 -- 66BB - 185K - .350OBP - .443
Brad Wilkerson has come to a crossroads. Is he going to continue to develop into a better player, or has he settled into a .250 hitter with some power and a lot of strikeouts. Based on these projected numbers, he's not a lead off hitter. If we keep him, put him in the 5 or 6 slot in the lineup. I'm afraid he strikeouts too often to be counted on consistantly.
What to do with Wilkerson: I know this may not set well, but I'd rather trade Wilkerson and see Ryan Church in left on a regular basis. No question that Brad has the talent, but he's not the kind of player to build around. More likely, he would make a great 2nd tier player on a contending team. A trade could bring a starting outfielder and perhaps a pitching prospect. He'd look good in the Dodgers outfield, or the Braves. Would the Braves part with some talent for Wilky? You bet.
CF]Ryan Church
.298 - 13 - 65 -- 26BB - 91K - .340OBP - .436SLG
Ryan Church's numbers reflect a player who hasn't had much of a chance to play on an everyday basis. A projection of only 26 walks is sickly. However, his slugging percent is pretty good and he'll only get better with a chance to be on the field every day.
What to do with Church: Lock him in and let him play every day. He may not be a great player but he'll certainly be a good one. I think he'll have power just below Wilkerson, with a much lower strikeout total. Let's give this guy a chance
RF]Jose Guillen
.289 - 33 - 100 -- 22BB - 111K - .326OBP - .520SLG
Jose Guillen is doing everything that GM Jim Bowden hoped he'd do when he traded for him last fall. A quick scan of his projected stats finds only one"uh-oh," walks & on base percentage. His OBP is.326, which makes sense considering he'll walk only 22 times all season. I think that is a bit of an abberation, though -- that might look different by season's end.
What to do with Guillen: Staple his cleats to the locker room floor and sign him to a long term contract. This is the guy you build around
C]Brian Schneider
.238 - 8 - 45 -- 37BB - 66K - .299 OBP - .377SLG
With the exception of Brian's batting average, all of these other projected numbers do resemble his career averages. Schneider has always had a poor on base percentage, and is slugging percentage is ok for a catcher. Of course, Schneider is in the game for his glove.
What to do with Schneider: If the Nationals can field a lineup that hits on a consistant basis, they then can afford to have Brian Schneider catching. However, right now, the bottom third of the lineup just can't hit, and that makes Schneider a liability, not an asset. Brian Schneider is a good catcher and needs to remain with the team.
At somepoint during this season, Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden are going to have to make some tough choices. The guys we're playing now, if they remain healthy, can win more games than they lose. That's very important from a marketing standpoint during this initial season in D.C. But doing this might harm the team's long term impact in the NL East.

Does anyone seriously think that Christian Guzman is superior to Jamie Carroll at short right now? Many in the organization believe that Savannah Sand Gnat Ian Desmond, who showed great promise during spring training, might be ready for the "show" in two or three years. Until then, I think Jamie Carroll gives us a better chance to win than Christian Guzman. Hard choice #1. What about third? Vinny Castilla is holding his own, and may provide a nice little season for 2005. But Brendan Harris has hit at every level he's played, and will only get better with playing time. He'll never get it with Vinny entrenched at 3rd. Hard Choice #2. The biggy may be Brad Wilkerson. I really think he's peaked, and he's not the leadoff hitter than I was lead to believe he was. He reminds me of a guy in the late 1960s named Nate Colbert. Once he got a chance to play everyday, he hit some homeruns and struck out a ton. His career was relatively short because of that. Do we trade Brad before he proves he's as good as he'll ever be? Hard choice #3. The rest of the lineup is good, and I would be happy to see them open the new stadm in 2008.

So, do we plan for this year, or for the future? Time will tell.

Late Night Loss Leaves Beltway Bummed, Watch Team Go Up Against Reds Ace In Day Game Today

For many of those who live inside the beltway, yesterday's game ended too late into the night, with the wrong team winning, and feeling a bit hungover by the way the Nationals lost.

17 runners left on base. Too many 4-6-3 double plays to count. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. For Republican fans, it was a double whammy. Their party lost the opportunity to once and for all stop what they saw as judicial ping pong by the Democrats AND the Nationals lost to a bunch of guys who were the political equivalent of the city council of Chubbuck Idaho. No no. Things like this just aren't supposed to happen.

So what happens today? After being shut down by pitchers who should be playing in AAA, the Nationals throw perhaps their worst starting pitcher, Claudio Vargas, against the Reds ace, Aaron Harang, who is 3-2 with an ERA of 3.32. Based on the rest of the series, this should be the game where the Nats thump the Reds. Just ask Josh Towers.

I've given up trying to predict the Nationals games anymore. I'll just watch and enjoy.

Randy Keilser? Who The Heck Is He?

For the first time in more than a month, the Cincinnati Reds have won two games in a row. For the first time in more than a month, the Cincinnati Reds have won a series. And they did all this by batting a pitcher with 4 major league at bats with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out in the 14th inning. Think about that.

Down 3-2 with a runner on second and 2 out in the 9th, pinch hitter Carlos Baearga poked a base hit into right field to plate the tying run. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the 1st, Livan Hernandez shut the Reds down, and so did all the D.C. relief pitchers. That is, until the 14th inning, when a misplayed hit to right by right fielder Jose Guillen allowed the runners to advance to 2nd and 3rd with one out. Randy Keisler then drove the ball over the mound and past the drawn in infield to win the game for the Reds.

The Reds won because an old "bug-a-boo" came back to haunt the Nationals. Washington left 17 runners on base. The Reds, in comparison, left only 10 on base. The Nationals had runners on base virtually every inning, and it took several double plays in the extra innings to keep Washington from plating a run.

Livan had problems with his control in the first inning, walking batters and finally having to groove a 3 ball pitch to Austin Kearns, who doubled in all 3 Reds baserunners. From that point, Hernandez was golden, giving up 6 hits for the game while striking out 8. Again, the poor offensive production of the Nationals made yet another bad pitcher look good, as Brandon Claussen gave up only 2 runs in 6 innings of work. Were it not for the Reds inept bullpen, the game would have ended two hours earlier.

Having played the longest game of the season, the Nats suit up again for a mid-day game on Wednesday. I'm wondering who will be awake or able to play. Claudio Vargas pitches for the Nats, which makes me concerned that Washington might just be swept for the first time this year. We'll see. These are the Reds, afer all.

Here's Hoping ...

Here's Hoping
[May 24th 2005] - Well, it's about 45 minutes before game time, and I'm getting that queasy feeling in my stomach again. The Nationals have shown they do better against the good teams than the bad ones, which makes tonight's game especially scary. Throw Greg Maddux against the Nats and he gets creamed. Throw the guys with the worst ERA in the American League, [Ted Lilly] and the guy with the second worst ERA in the National League [Eric Milton], and lose in an embarassing way. Go figure.

There is no "book" on the Nats. They might get 3 hits one night and 13 the next. You just have to hang onto your chair and hope for the best.

My fingers are crossed, and my teeth clenched. We'll wee what happens in a couple hours.

This Is Why Fans Of .500 Teams Have Higher Life Insurance Costs

[May 24th 2005]One of the main requirements of being a .500 team is to lose about half your games. That's the glass is 'half-empty' version. For the glass is "half-full' folks, I'll rephrase: One of the main requirements of being a .500 team is to win about half your games.

There is no law, no codiciles or agreements, arrangements or torts that indicate the kind of games to be won, and the kind of games to be lost. Well, that explains it. Or does it?

That explains how a team like the Nationals can vanquish future hall of famers from the mound one week and lose to the pitchers with the first AND second worst ERAs in the National League the next. It's downright nerve racking. All star regulars can't get the ball out of the infield but a recalled minor league whacks a homerun on the first at bat of the season. You never know what's going to happen.

The really good teams, they always beat the bad teams, and usually beat the good ones. You know that going in. The really bad teams always lose to the good teams and usually lose to the average ones. You know that going in too. But the average teams? They are quite capable of sweeping a first place team [The Nats swept the Diamondbacks in April] and being swept by a last place team.

There are two types of .500 teams, one going up, and the other going down. The one going up is usually full of young players, a few veterans, most with ability but have as of yet been given the opportunity to fulfill their talents. They are a player or two away from being a serious contender. The other .500 team is usually loaded with "has beens" or "never wasses," a bunch of guys that excelled as a platoon player or 4th outfielder who were now asked to produce beyond their ability.

I remember the Oakland A's of 1968. They finished the season with 82 wins, in essence a .500 team. Their roster was dotted with "up and comers" like Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando and Catfish Hunter. They had the talent; they lacked the experience. By the early 1970s, they were one of the two dominant teams in the American League. The New York Mets were a .500 team a few years ago as well. They were a team replete with overpaid veterans who no longer had the desire or the talent to contend for the pennant. Some nights, they looked like their old selves, and destroyed the opposition. Other nights, however, Mo Vaughn and crew could barely stand at the plate.

The Nationals are more like the A's than the Mets. Only two of their starters, Vinny Castilla and Jose Vidro, are over 30. None of the other starters have reached the pinnacle of their careers yet. They have a new owner coming, and a new stadium on the horizon. With a little luck and a little more money, the Nationals are in the position to be a dominant team in the National League for years to come.

Until then, we'll just have to watch guys with ERA's of 10.15 [Ted Lilly] and 7.35 [Eric Milton] make us look silly. The penance for what is to come, I hope.

Boogy Man Again Attacks Nats Bats, Lose 5-3 To Reds

This is one of those games that just make you shake your head. Eric Milton came into the game with the second highest ERA among National League starters, perhaps one more bad game away from joining Danny Graves in the unemployment line. Milton hasn't just been bad. He's stunk.

That said, Milton gave up 3 runs over 8 innings and won his 3rd game of the year.

Esteban Laoiza never looked sharp, and the Reds broke the game open with 5 runs in innings 2 through 5. That was all the Reds needed, as the Nats managed only 6 hits during the game. Nick Johnson's 7th home run, and Brendan Harris' pinch hit, 2 run homer made the game seem closer than it was.

Brendan Harris was called up today to replace Jeffrey Hammonds, who is suffering from another hamstring ailment. Harris has a solid history of offensive prowess, and he showed why tonight. It has been his defense that has held him back. He had committed 6 errors to go along with his 6 home runs at New Orleans this year.

More later.

Cincinnati's 3rd Ballpark In 30 Years A Lot Like The First

Crosley Field

Crosley Field had served Cinncinati well for more than sixty years, but both Reds and community leaders believed it was time to mordernize. After all, Crosley field was built on a unusually shaped piece of land, surrounded by the brick business buildings of the city of Cinncinati. It was this irregular footprint that gave Crosley Field its unique feel. The time had come to create something modern, away from the inner city, utilitarian in nature and mammoth in design.

Riverfront Stadium, Opening Night

Riverfront Stadium was like nothing else we'd ever seen before. Oh sure, it was round and concrete and green on the inside, but there was something different. For the first time, the infield was covered in Astroturf, and the dirt to be found was in "sliding paths" around the bases and homeplate. I remember a rainly March Saturday the spring before the stadium was to open. My Dad and I had gone shopping at Giant Food, and he let me buy a copy of the Sporting News. I was flipping the pages and came across a picture of a partially completed Riverfront Stadium. The caption mentioned the "slideing paths" around the bases. I must have stared at that picture for 30 minutes trying to figure out where the infield would go. I never gave the idea of an "Astroturf" infield a second thought.The stadium was the ultimate in utilitarian design. Soon, Davey Concepcion learned to go deep into the hole at short, jump, twirl, and fire a one-hop bounce to first, using the turf to help the ball gain speed along its path.

I can't speak to watching a game at Riverfront Stadium in person, but I can say that I couldn't watch a game from Cinncinati on TV without falling asleep from the visual boredom. Dodger Stadium, on the other hand, has visual sights and sightlines that made watching a boring team fun.

Riverfront Stadium was a product of the high interest rate, low tax base life of the 1970s. Cities had to learn how to do things on the cheap, and Riverfront Stadium and its clones were the result. The stadium aged gracefuly at first, but eventually, the "low maintenance" design began to show wear and tear. By the mid 1990s, it became obvious that a new stadium was needed. After only 30 years, Riverfront Stadium was put out to pasture.

Great American Ballpark

In many ways, Great American Ballpark is the best and newest that stadium architecture has to offer. In other ways, it is that same, urban, irregular footprint, Crosley Field knock off that graced Cincinnati for six decades.

Riverfront Stadium was not a poor design. It was a good design for a poor time in American history. It served its purpose, and served it well. American cars, television shows and print media were all simple and no frills. When a tv show is no longer watched, it is cancelled. When a magazine no longer touches the soul of the nation, it goes out of publication. But a stadium? A stadium remains until someone tears it down.

Thankfully, Cinncinati did just that. No longer is it a reminder of America's most past. To reflect the cities future, it went back to the past.

We'll check in again in 30 years and see what's happening.

Checking Out The Reds: Not Exactly Your Father's Version

.The 1976 "Big Red Machine" : Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Davey Concepcion,
Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, George Foster, Dan Driessen and Ken Griffey

I hated the Cincinnati Reds of the mid 1970s, not because they were bad, but because they wre so good. Each position fielded an all-star. They had speed, power and defense. Although they had no "names" on the pitching staff, manager Sparky Anderson's quick hook always kept a fresh arm in the game. Not only did they win most days, they often embarrassed their opponent. Over the decade of the 1970s, no team can compare with "Big Red Machine."

My, how times have changed.

Injuries, poor trades and a thin corporate wallet have kept the Reds from returning to their glory days. They have a retro stadium retro uniforms and a city who supports baseball. Yet, they just can't seem to win.

RECORD: 15 -28
TEAM ERA: 5.63

Looking at those numbers, is there any question why they are doing so poorly? None of these stats are acceptable, and many are downright embarrassing. A team ERA of 5.63? That's about 2 runs per game more than the Nationals.

The Reds By Position

1B]Sean Casey
.301 - 2 -21 > On Pace To Hit: 301 - 8 - 80 OBP: .344 SLG: .416
Casey is a good contact hitter with a solid average and few strikouts ... kills the fastball and is getting better with the off speed stuff ... only problem is minimal run production for a first baseman

2B]Ryan Freel
.316 - 0 - 2 > On Pace to Hit: .316 - 0 - 9 OBP: .440 SLG: 421

At first glance, it looks like he doesn't play often, but those "2" RBI's have come in 95 at bats ... good speed, on pace to steal 45 bases ... disciplined yet aggressive hitter ... good fielder ... doesn't do particularly well against lefties

SS]Felipe Lopez
.301 - 5 - 18 > On Pace To Hit: .301 - 25 - 89 OBP: .357 SLG: .521
Nice numbers for a shortstop ... good poise and great power for a middle infielder ... good hitter from both sides of the plate ... quality fielder ... does poorly against lefties ... below average walk to strikeout ratio

3B]Joe Randa
.285 - 4 - 23 > On Pace To Hit: .285 - 15 - 88 OBP: .370 SLG: .437
Very similar to Sean Casey, contact hitter with less power than most for his position ... good hitter with runners in scoring position ... good range and strong arm at 3rd ... doesn't walk nearly enough or take count deep

LF]Adam Dunn
.255 - 13 - 25 > On Pace To Hit: .255 - 50 - 96 OBP: .417 SLG: .650

Former quarterback has great athleticism ... good patience for a young hitter ... speed capable of 20 steals a year ... good patience at the plate ... still strikes out too often ... a liability in the field

CF]Ken Griffey Jr.
.255 - 6- 26 > On Pace To Hit: .255 - 23 - 101 OBP: .326 SLG: .452

Not much to say about Ken Griffey you don't already know ... had he remained healthy, or in Seattle, he, and not Bonds, would be the one pushing Hank Aaron for the all time home run record ... batting average and on base percent very low for him ... most all of his production has come in May

RF]Austin Kearns
.256 - 5 - 18 > On Pace To Hit: .255 - 21 - 76 OBP: .333 SLG: .446

On pace to strike out 156 times this season ... arm in right is Jose Guillen like ... hits lefties and righties equally ... whacks breaking balls a long way ... prone to long slumps ... decent speed

C]Jason LaRue
.196 - 1 - 11 > On Pace To Hit: .196 - 5 - 51 OBP: .305 SLG: .265

Having worst season of career ... on track to strike out 140 times ... though usually a good offensive player, defense is his priority ... seldom takes a walk ... struggles against lefties

The Reds offense, although struggling this year, is still scoring enough runs fro the team to be somewhere near .500 -- the problem is the pitching. Alan Harang has the best ERA among the starters at 3.32. The second best belongs to Eric Milton at 7.16. You get the idea. Only one of the Reds' starters gives the team a chance to win every night he pitches. In contrast, the Nationals have four, perhaps even five starters that can shut the other team down on any given night. In the bullpen, Danny Graves has become a conundrum. Although he has 10 saves, he also has a 7.36 ERA, and has gotten into several verbal "shoving matches" with fans in the stadium.

The Washington Nationals are superior in virtually every position if comparing uninjured players. Nick Johnson is just beginning his career, Jose Vidro is still one of the premier players at his position. Vinny Castilla has a little more pop than Randa, and much better defense. Jose
Guillen is a better all around player than Austin Kearns, and Brian Schneider is light years ahead of Jason Larue. Felipe Lopez is a much better shortstop than Christian Guzman, and Adam Dunn is a superb hitter, though Brad Wilkerson's defense makes that choice a little closer. Of course, Ken Griffey is better than anyone we can put in center, but would you want Griffey at this point in his career over Ryan Church? I'm just not sure.

Go Nats. Take advantage of the poor play of the Reds and sweep the series.

Injury Bug Continues To Attack Nationals

In my 40 years of following major league baseball, I have never seen anything like it. Oh, key players have gone down, and teams fortunes have been altered by the loss of a Tony Conigliaro, a Harmon Killebrew or a Nomar Garciaparra. No question about that. But never have I ever seen so many players lose so much playing time, all on one team.

As of this moment, the Nationals disabled list looks like this:

Henry Mateo - shoulder
Jose Vidro - ankle
Termel Sledge - hamstring
Joey Eischen - broken arm
Alex Escobar - arm
T.J. Tucker - arm
Antonia Osuna - arm
Francis Beltran - arm
Wil Cordero - knee

In addition, Jeffrey Hammonds will be placed on the disabled list Monday. Further, there is the walking wounded:

Jose Guillen - ribcage
Christian Guzman - hamstring
Vinny Castilla - sore knee - expected to miss the entire Reds series
Brad Wilkerson - forearm - expected to miss 5 - 7 games

The Nationals have done an exceptional job fighting through these injuries. My guess is they would have another 2-3 wins had they remained healthy. But that is in the past. The question becomes: How will the injuries efect the future of the team? For the next through weeks, games will have to be won with timely hitting, steady defense and quality pitching.

Fortunately, the Nationals are capable of all three. We'll just have to see.

Nationals Return From The Dead, Beat Blue Jays 9-2

Today was a big game in the short history of the Washington Nationals. They would either continue both their losing streak and their anemic hitting, or they would remind the baseball world that they aren't your father's Washington baseball team.

Looks like they won't be donning Senators' togs anytime soon.

Going into the bottom of the 4th inning, the Nationals offense remained horrid. In 23 Canadian innings, the former Montreal team managed only 1 run. To make matters worse, Shay Hillebrand stroked a 2-0 fastball deep into the left field stands to give the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the 4th.

Coming into the dugout for the top of the 5th inning, Washington had every reason to head for the locker room and pack their bags for the flight out of Toronto. But something strange happened. For the first time in Toronto, they fought back, and they fought back hard.

The Blue Jays sent to the mound Josh Towers, a quality pitcher with a good 2005 record: 5-1 and a 3.19 ERA. Not Ray Halladay numbers, but very close. For the first 4 innings, Towers held the Nats to a few harmless hits. Things changed in the 5th, however. With the bases loaded, DH Jose Guillen drove a ball deep to left-center field, plating Gary Benentt, Christain Guzman and Jamie Carroll.

That was not the only surprise the Nats had up their sleeves this day, hwever.

Tony Blanco, Jim Bowden's pet project, hit the Nats first 3 run homer of the season and put the game out of reach. Another "oh by the way" run in the 9th inning ended the scoring. Final score: Washington 9 -- Toronto 2

Tony Blanco has shown Jim Bowden enough that he has traded for him while with the Reds and again here in Washington. He is a young man who may be a prominent part of the Natinals future. Because of the rules of the Rule V draft, Blanco must stay with the team the entire season or be offered back to the Reds at half-price. Because he was drafted out of AA, he has yet to play a day in AAA. Blanco has shown good power in the minor leagues, though his on base percentage has only been "average." Still, he's doing well this year.

Tomo Ohka looks like he's ready to rejoin the starting staff. He pitched well in a 5 inning relief appearance against the Brewers last week, and did it again today. Ohka pitched 8 innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs. He struck out 2 and walked 1. Amazingly, he has reduced his ERA, once full of ugly croooked numbers, to a neat 3.71. While Zach Day still looks shaky, Ohka should retake his spot in the rotation, forcing out Claudio Vargas.

Jose Guillen is looking much healthier. With 3 days off against Milwaukee, and another 3 days in Toronto as the DH, he has been given the opporuntiy to heal. And heal he has. Guillen got 2 more hits and 3 more RBIs today, raising his average to .290 and getting his 25th RBI this season.

Ryan Church, who can't decide if we wants to be an all star or a 4th outfielder, felt like being an all star today. Church got 4 hits and saw his average climb to .304. He played steady defense in right field as well.

The injury bug is going to have to leave the team soon, because there won't be anyone left to bite. Vinny Castilla hurt himself striking out and was replaced by Tony Blanco and later Carlos Baerga. It was announced that Brad Wilkerson was suffering from a forearm injury, one that could keep him out "an extended period of time." No word on Castilla's injury.

There comes a point where this team, and its limited payroll, simply cannot continue to lose their starting position players without seeing a severe drop in performance. It could well be that when the Nats take the field for their next game, a total of three starters are injury free.


But, at least for today, the Nats came through with a win. Let's enjoy the win and see what happens tomorrow.

Nats Lose Again, 7-0

The Washington Nationals lost in Toronto today, 7-0. The Nats offense managed four base hits.

End of game review.

In most of our homes, their is a closet where all of our important "stuff" is carefully piled deep into its bowels. We open the door, throw something new in, and slam the door. As we walk away, we think to ourselves, "Something bad is going to happen one of these days."

For the last two weeks, the Washington Nationals have been winning, creating distance between themselves and the .500 mark. Each game, the team would get five or six hits, but excellent pitching would win the day for the team. After each game, most of us would say, "Something bad is going to happen one of these days."

"Something bad" has happened the last two days. The offense, missing starters due to injury and having several others struggling to find their swing, have continued to put up anemic numbers. However, the pitching staff is now mortal again. The result? Over the past two games, the Nats have been outscored 13 - 1. There is no hope in sight.

Brad Wilkerson is reverting back to that .255 hitter who strikes out 160 a season. Jose Guillen just can't drive the ball with that pulled ribcage muscle. Vidro is still out. Christian Guzman seems to need the astroturf surface of the Humphrey Dome to keep his average around the league average. Castilla is doing OK. Schneider is sinking. Carroll is doing all he can. Ryan Church can't decide if he's going to be a solid major leaguer or not. Nick Johnson? Well, he's Superman.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not getting down on the team, I am, however, restating what I've said all year long: This team is too thin to survive both injuries and a couple of off years. Something needs to happen soon, a trade, a return of a key player, a breakout of a slump, or the fragile nature of the team may begin to take its toll.

NATIONALS Hope Ray Takes Holiday This Afternoon


Beward the Ides of May.

The Atlanta Braves, all alone in firt place in the NL East, pulled into San Diego and lost all three games this past week. They haven't been the same since. Sometimes, all it takes is a single series to derail an entire season.

The Jays would love to be the team to derail the Nationals this wekend in Toronto.

Last night was just one of those games. You shrug your shoulders and take your wife out to dinner. But remember, we just did that last week against Milwaukee. We're allowed only "so" many shrugs in the season. Teams like Kansas City and Tampa have already used their allotments. We haven't, but we're beginning to.

Ted Lilly has been a terrible pitcher this year, a pitcher that most baseball fans would say, "Oh, is he still in the league?" Yet, Mr. 10.40 ERA holds the Nats to one run on a handful of hits. Sound familiar? Maybe like, oh, I don't know ... Wes Obermeuller? The Washington Nationals are beginning to turn a bunch of "whos" into "wows" and that is not a good sign.

Going into to the season, GM Jim Bowden said that we were "one bit bat short." That was true then, but what about now? With the injuries, we're about 3 1/2 basts short. We can't come back and win a game 7-6. Right now, our only hope is for that pitching staff to continue to keep the opposition under 4 runs, which it has done so well all season. But how long can they keep that up?

Looks like Claudio Vargas' first game against the Diamondbacks was an abberation. Sad. This means that Ohka or Day HAS to return to the world of the living for the Nats to continue towards respectability.

Ray Halladay is the Blue Jays version of Livan Hernandez. He is 6-2 with an ERA of 3.13. In 69 innings, he has walked only 11 and struck out 47. He has a plus fastball that tops out at 97mph, and a knuckle curve that can embarass even the most veteran of player.

Hope for the best, be prepared for the worst. Tony Armas is a gifted pitcher, but he knows that at this stage in the season, a single mistake can cost him the game. And when a pitcher is too careful, well, he usually is too often the loser.

Oh, Canada.

Lilly Embarasses Nationals


Perhaps the starting pitcher with the worst statistics so far this season pitched the Washinton Nationals into a deep hole this evening at the stadium formerly known as SkyDome. How does a pitcher with an ERA of 10.40 limit the team with the 3rd best batting average in the National League to almost nothing?

This is one of those games where you just flush it down the toilet and try not to think about it too much. The Nationals lost to a team nowhere near their caliber. We'll just let it go at that. Rather than spend any time reviewing this loss, I 'm going to take my son to the park and practice curve balls. I think that'll be time better spent.

We'll go over the game in detail tomorrow. For now, some quality time with my son.

Oh, Canada: Former NL Doormat Now 1st Place Contender, Play Blue Jays Tonight In Return To Maple Leaf Nation

I wonder how the Washington Nationals nee Montreal Expos will be treated tonight at Rogers Stadium nee Sky Dome. Will they be welcomed back as the lost sheep from the Bible, or will they have to duck all night to as to not get hit in he head by a can of LaBatts gold?

A visit to the website of the Toronto Globe and Mail reveals an interesting headline: "Nationals Vist Reopens Old Wounds." I would reflect on that article, but it is a "pay to read" piece, and I just don't keep Canadian money around. Besides that, with that country's decidedly anti-American stance, the only thing I'd send over the border is a couple of armored divisions [sorry Democrats, you know I love ya, but Canada is no longer on my Christmas card list -- of course, considering their anti-Christian stance, the card likely wouldn't make it across the border anyway].

I did read through their sports section, however difficult that was. The exchange rate reduced the size of the font by 28%, and I am getting too old to read that small type. However, one article does talk about the Expos/Nationals perspective of the game tonight:

Team officials say there haven't been any special ticket requests made by Expos
fans, only one former club employee has asked for credentials and just one
Montreal media member has been issued a pass. It seems few care for another
encounter with their former flame, not even a weekend at Rogers Centre for old
times' sake.

This is about as I had figured it would be. When the Senators sauntered into the night to follow Bob Short to the land of the Cowboys, they became the enemy. Although I wished Dick Bosman and Frank Howard well, I couldn't have cared less about the rest of the team. 1] THEY MOVED 2]THEY MOVED TO THE HOME OF THE DALLAS COWBOYS. Ouch and double ouch.

I am sure that Expos fans feel much the same way. 1]They moved. 2]They moved to the capitol of the country that so many Canadians dislike these days. Makes sense. The article mentions the hard feelings held against major league baseball by the "die hard" Expos fans. Really? All seven are upset? C'mon. Even in the good days, the Expos drew only average crowds.

So, who are these Blue Jays? Are they as good as their 21-20 record indicate? Let's take a look at the team:

Young lefty Gustavo Chacin is off to blistering start in his rookie year. Chacin, who lost his last start, 4-3 to the Yankees, has pitched well against good teams this season. In three starts against teams that won at least 89 games last season (New York, Texas and Oakland), Chacin has allowed just six earned runs in 20 innings for an ERA of 2.70. Chacin isn't an overpowering pitcher, as his fastball tops out at about 91 mph. Last season he developed a cut fastball which allowed him deceive batters and have success. Chacin, along with Roy Halladay, may be the cornerstone of the Blue Jays' rebuilding process.

Guess who's stepped in to fill the massive offensive void left by the departure of Carlos Delgado.......Give up? Catcher Gregg Zaun has helped fill in, hitting .333 with two homers and 13 RBI with an on-base percentage of .437 and a slugging percentage of .561. This is the same guy who has hit .253 with an OPS of .723 in 1,882 at-bats in his career.

Shea Hillenbrand has also gotten off to a great start, hitting .370 with an OBP .407 and slugging percentage of .519.

Vernon Wells, Toronto's lone All-Star last season, has gotten off to a rough start this year, batting .234 with four homers and an OBP of just .256.

Let's take a look at the position players:

267 - 4 - 21
He's got decent power at the plate, along with the patience to hang in for a walk. He's even got surprising speed for a corner infielder and has grown into a strong fielder.
However, he'll pile up a lot of strikeouts and tends to lapse into mechanical difficulties with his swing. Far from growing, his power has actually regressed.

2B]Orlando Hudson
270 - 2 - 17
Lines the ball to all fields and has the speed and base-running smarts to turn doubles into triples. His tremendous instincts and energy put him above players with equal talent. He's turning into an excellent fielder. The young switch-hitter struggles miserably from the right side of the plate. Though he has that speed, he hasn't mastered the art of stealing bases.

SS] Russ Adams
.237 - 3 - 14
A 2002 draftee of the Blue Jays, Adams is in his second year with the Blue Jays. Considering low home run totals, he's had a good slugging average, .461, to go with a very low on base percentage, .305, which is a deadly combination for a middle infielder.

3B]Shea Hillenbrand
.352 - 4 - 20
A fill in for Corey Koskie, he's been doing well this season. At the plate, Hillenbrand is the prototypical third baseman, with great strike zone awareness, good gap power and a consistent bat that can keep him close to .300. He sucks, however, in the field. He has an erratic arm, which provides many a souvenir for fans behind first base. And he just refuses to take a free pass.
He was a DH until Koskie got hurt, and the Blue Jays are hoping he "survives" the experience at the hot corner.

LF]Frank Catalanotto
.271 - 1 - 11
With a smooth left-handed swing and the ability to drive mistakes into the gaps. Catalanotto is an underrated hitter. He is disciplined, and has a great work ethic.
Defensively, he doesn't have a great arm in the outfield, though he can play second base if pressed. Shows good hustle and speed but needs to learn how to pick his spots when stealing.
A good but not great player.

CF]Vernon Wells
.217 - 6 - 18
You could almost save the money on two other outfielders with the kind of range Wells has. He has a very strong arm as well. He's an aggressive line-drive hitter with power and RBI skills.
Not nearly aggressive enough on the bases considering his speed. He's a little too prone to the strikeout and not prone enough to taking a walk.

RF]Alex Rios
.312 - 2 - 21
Huge guy, 6'5" and 200 pounds. A power hitter, right? In his first full season in the bigs, 2004, he hit .284 with ONE home run and 28 RBIs in 426 at bats. He had a .383 SLG and .338 OBP. Yuck.

C]Ken Huckaby
.167 - 0 - 4
Uh huh.

Because Shay Hillebrand and Corie Kosie were listed as revolving DHs, Koskie's injury leaves this position open, and I have no idea who the Blue Jays play to put here for this weekend's games.

Head - to - head position comparison:

1B] Nick Johnson is an easy choice
2b] Although Orlando Hudson has nice numbers, Jamie Carroll is playing lights out right now
SS]Tie - both players are doing poorly this year
3B]Vinny Castilla gets the nod because his defense is great, and Hillebrand is a DH playing 3rd. Offensive numbers favor Vinny by just a tad
LF]BradWilkerson over Catalanotto in a big, big way
CF]I'd normally take Vernon Wells over Ryan Church in a heartbeat, but Well's numbers are so-so this year. Still, he's the guy
RF]Ha ha ha ha ha. Jose Guillen
C]Ha ha ha ha. Brian Schneider
DH]No clue who his playing this position for either team

Final results: Nationals: 6 positions ... Blue Jays 1 position, with 2 ties. Based on this, I predict that the Nats will win 2 out of 3 in Toronto this weekend.

Carroll Powers Nats to 3-2 Over Brewers

Jamie Carroll? Well, that was a little stretch, granted, but the dimunitiave second baseman got the first hit off of Brewers pitcher Victor Santos in the 4th inning, eventually scoring on Vinny Castilla's RBI double. Carroll drove in a run in the 5th inning when Brian Schneider scored on Carroll's hit.

The game started out like the last three games for the Nationals: no hits. Jamie Carroll's base knock in the 4th was the Nats first base runner in the game. A combination of good pitching, coupled with Washington injuries, transformed the Brewers pitching staff into the 1971 Baltimore Orioles hurlers during this homestand. Luckily, the Nationals pitchers were a wee bit better.

Livan Hernandez tied Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins for the league lead in wins with 7 this afternoon. As the does each time he pitches, he was in trouble early and often, but always was able to pitch his way out of trouble. Hernandez pitched around baserunners all game, untimately leaving 10 runners on base. Livan's ERA, still suffering from opening day, nonetheless has dropped to a manageable 3.69. Hernandez did show signs that his knee was bothering him, as he misplayed a ball hit back to him that could easily have resulted in a double play. Instead, it bouced out of his glove, with no outs recorded. He walked slowly to and from the dugout between innings. But, Hernandez is a gamer, and helped the Nats achieve a season high mark of 5 games over .500.

Make no mistake, this 5-2 homestand was an unqualified success for the Nationals. But I have to wonder if the team can keep winning without the offense again being a force. The pitching staff cannot be expected to continue to keep the opposition to under 3 runs 8 games out of 10. We need Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro back soon, and Brad Wilkerson HAS to stop striking out so much. He currently leads the major leagues with 44 strikeouts. He hasn't hit a homer in a month. Christian Guzman has reverted to the "instant out" status that he was in the beginning of the season.

It's been a great ride, but things could turn sour in a hurry if we don't regain our offensive punch.

The Nats are in Toronto tomorrow night to begin interleague play. It will be interesting to see how they are treated. Traitors? Perhaps. Likely though, I think Toronto is happy to be the only "game" in town, so to speak.

Milwaukee Paper Takes Swipe At Jeffrey Hammonds

"A Sucker Punch -- Light Hitting Hammonds Hurts Brewers Once Again" read the headline in this morning's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Jeffrey Hammonds, whose illfated $21 million dollar contract helped sink the previous regime, inflicted more damage Wednesday night" lamented writer Tom Haudricort.

The Brewers in fact did sign Hammonds to a 3 year, $21 million dollar contract after his only year in Denver, when he hit .335 with 20 home runs and 106 RBIs. Previous to his stint in Denver, Hammonds had hit more than 17 home runs only twice in a career that began in 1993.

Hammonds' poor showing in Milwaukee was somehow his fault?

The year before, in Cincinnati, Hammonds batted .279 with 17 homers and 47 RBIs in 262 ab bats. Throughout his career, Hammonds had shown an inability to play an entire season. In an article in that same Milwaukee Journal Sentinel written the day after Hammonds signed his long term contract, the paper pointed out that Hammonds had never played more than 123 games in a season, making his signing doubly dubious. Hammonds was injury prone, and his only quality season came in the rarefied air in Denver.

What happened was inevitable. Hammonds played 170 games over his two seasons in Milwaukee, hitting 15 homers while batting .254. He did what his career indicators suggested he would do. Hammonds is a talented player who can't stay healthy and produce on a regular basis.

The then Brewers General Manger knew all of this going into negotiations with Hammonds and his agent, and yet signed him to that large free agent contract. There was no way that he was going to be able to live up to the contract that he signed. The Brewers set him up to fail.

And fail he did.

This year, he started the season in the minor leagues while playing for a team that lost 95 games last year. That says a lot about where is career has gone since his days in Milwaukee.

Note to the Journal Sentinel: The Jeffrey Hammonds contract was but one of many strange and convoluted player moves the Brewers have made over the past decade. I suggest that Jeffrey Hammonds was your big free agent signing in 2001 because you couldn't get anyone else to come play from you.

Jeffrey Hammonds played for the Brewers as he had played for the Orioles and Reds before going to Denver: with all he had, which was usually limited by injuries. So don't blame him for your mistake. Blame the Brewers for a flawed signing.

The fact that he won the game for the Nationals Tuesday night did make it more sweet, though. Didn't it?

RFK Looks Like The 1960s, Plays That Way Too: Nats Rewind Clock In 1-0 Win

It's not often when you're team's batting average plummets for the second game in a row and you're perfectly happy to see that happen. But tonight was just such a night. Tonight wasn't a game of mammoth blasts and neverending base runners. No tonight was a little more like the game that Abner Doubleday envisioned.

Games like this were thrilling in the days before broadcasts were possible. Games weren't measured by OPS and GIDP, but rather who won the game and how much fun was had at the Polo Grounds, or Sportsman Park, or Hilltop Park. When radio came into being, a 1-0 game held the fan on the edge of his living room sofa just as well as a 12-10 score. Through the eras of Ott, Williams, Kaline and Yaz, baseball was a game of geometry. Some timely hitting. Quality defense. Outstanding pitching. But television and ESPN changed all that. For the past decade, the long ball was the tail that wagged the baseball dog. So many complaints have been thrown at RFK stadium as being too pitcher friendly. It's not pitcher friendly. It' s baseball friendly. The Washington Nationals seem to be the only team that doesn't play in a retro bandbox with more luxury sweets than blades of grass in foul ground. All of a sudden, outfield symmetry seems so, oh I don't know ... symetrical. Players in the outfield can forgo worrying about hills, flag poles, warehouses and the buzzing and clicking of display boards along the fence. They just have to play baseball.And so, on a cool DC evening, 30,000 fans saw firsthand what millions of fans have seen since the days of Frank Baker. And they liked it.

Now, on to the game.

Esteban Loiaza was magnificent, pitching 8 innings of 5 hit ball, striking out 5, walking none, and never really being threatened during the game. Loiaza saw his ERA drop from 3.55 to 3.08 and solidified his position as the number 2 starter in the rotation behind Livan Hernandez. It is a shame that the Nationals continue to provide him with no offensive support, as his 1-2 record would indicate. Going into tonight's game, Loiaza had the 3rd worst run support in the major leagues. Remember, Loiaza signed a one-year contract, so a good season on his part makes the chances of him resigning with the Nationals slim. As long as teams like the Mets sign Kris Benson for 8 million a year, and teams like the Yankees sign Jaret Wright for 7 million per year, the Nats will have little chance of resigning our mid-level freeagents. So enjoying him while you can.

Brewers pitcher Chris Capuano was equally dominating, pitching 8 1/3 innings and only giving up 5 hits while striking out 6. In fairness, the winning run shouldn't have ever reached base. Capuano through an 84 mph1-2 breaking ball a little inside, and Brad Wilkerson stuck his right elbow several inches into the strike zone to let himself get hit. It should have been called "no pitch." Surprisingly, no one on the Brewers team complained. Jamie Carroll bunted and new pitcher Mike Adams gave up a swinging bunt single to Vinny Castilla. Nick Johnson was intentionally walked to bring up Jeffery Hammonds, 1 for his last 14. It didn't take him long to line a pitch down the 3rd baseline to easily bring home the winning run. Gary Majewski won the game and hard luck pitcher Sal Capuano took the loss.

This was a wonderful game. Quality pitching. Great defense. No, I wouldn't want a season full of 1-0 games, but they sure are fun every now and then. The Nats try to win the series 3-1 tomorrow afternoon at RFK.

Nick Johnson: Honey On The Spam

Nick Johnson

It had to happen sooner or later, and thank goodness, it happened much later than the Yankees, The Red Sox, The Dodgers, The Diamondbacks and the Cardinals.

For the first time this season, the Nationals were out of the game by the second inning, playing the rest of the game because rules required it. Cludio Vargas was as badTuesday as he was good his last time out against the Diamondbacks, giving up 6 runs in 1 1/3 innings. Not a great way to gain Frank Robinson's trust. On the other side, Brewer nobody Wes Obermeuller had a perfect game heading into the 7th inning.

On a positive note, Tomo Ohka pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up only 2 hits and no runs, reaffirming the fact that he has the talent to be a credible middle of the rotation pitcher.

For the Nationals, only Nick Johnson and Jamie Carroll stood in the way of a no hitter. Nick Johnson, continuing his march towards becoming one of the National League's best all around first baseman contributed a single and a 9th inning home run that ended the Brewers shutout hopes.

Sometimes, games like this happen. I pulled out one of my many baseball statistic annuals, and found that the 1927 Yankees lost 13-2 to the Senators in July of that year. It happens. It doesn't matter. Now, it does matter if it happens time and time again, game after game, month after month. Just ask Devil Rays and Royals fans what that's like. No, until they prove otherwise, this was but a blip on the baseball radar, a statistical certainty during a 162 game season. Let's see what happens over the next few games. Likely, Tuesday's game will just a blip on that radar.

Nationals Bomb For First Time This Year

I tried to come up with a positive slant to write about in the first "fast draft" story, but couldn't. So, instead I'll publish a picture of my son Korth who has one of the lowest ERA's on his Idaho superleague team, and likely would have pitched no worse than Mr. Vargas.

Nick Johnson's two run blast was nice, but that was terribly isolated among a plethora of problems. Brewers pitcher Oberstassen, or whatever his name was, he of the lifetime 5.60 ERA in 200 innings, had a no hitter through six innings. It was just one of those nights.

The great thing is who cares? This is the first time in a long time that we basically out of the game from the get-go. That Brady Clark is a gamer, isn't he?

Oh well, a little more indepth analysis later. For now, enjoy my son's curveball.

It's So Unbelievable, It HAS To Be True

This is a photograph of the original Milwaukee Brewers uniform in 1970. Here is the powder blue road jersey. Notice how different the letters are between the two uniforms? Notice how the road jersey uses a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters? You wouldn't believe why.

Baseball was a losing proposition in Seattle in 1969. Too many owners and not enough assets. A stadium that was barely adequate for the Pacific Coast League the year before. Promised renovations were stopped by the city. All of these negatives caused the team to slip into receivership during the winter. The city was looking for new owners to keep the team in Seattle while a group in Milwaukee lead by Bud Selig was trying to move the team to the Midwest. During Spring Training, lawsuits were working their way through the courts. When the time came to move north, nothing was decided. The trucks were packed with the Pilots gear, and the drivers were given this admonition: "Drive to Salt Lake City and call us." When the call came, the judge had made his decision: they were now the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team had literally just a couple of days to create a new team to play in a stadium that hadn't seen baseball on a regular basis in almost 15 years. The first problem: Where could they come up with uniforms by opening day?

The Brewer management gathered seamstresses who removed the lettering from the uniforms. New, simple block letters were purchased and sewn onto the old jerseys. If you looked closely, you could still see the holes in the material where the old stitches were. They now had home uniforms. What about those powder blue togs?

Always trying to save money, Bud Selig came up with a great idea. He would use some of the letters from the "Seattle" on the road uniform: the two "e's" and the "s" would work. The team bought letters for the B-R-W-R part of the lettering, and used the "e's" and "s" from Seattle. But no one noticed that the Seattle uniform was unique in 1969: they used lower case lettering. So when the Brewers went on their first road trip, they sported uniforms with both upper case and lower case lettering across the chest. They also left on the exaggerated nautical striping, or hacks, on the sleeves. What did these stripes have to do with Milwaukee? Nothing. They just didn't have the time to remove them.

By 1971, they created some uniforms from scratch, although they still looked a bit like the ones that came from Seattle the previous year.

And we thought that the Expos move to D.C. was problematic. Hah!

Brewers Need Less Distractions, More Hits Tonight At RFK

The Brewers, who hope to end their three game losing streak tonight, give the ball to Wes Obermueller, a pitcher I've never heard of. Surprisingly, he has 35 career starts. He hasn't, however, done much with those starts, going 8-15 with a 5.60 ERA. Obermueller is being whacked around by opposition hitters at a .300 clip. Obermueller is so inconsequential that several of the on-line baseball sites don't even list him as a major league player. That's good for the Nats this evening.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson will counter with Claudio Vargas in his second game back from his New Orleans vacation. He pitched well in his first outing, giving up one unearned run in six innings in a game the Nationals ultimately lost to Arizona. Vargas has experience as a starter, starting 20 games in 2003, and was named "pitcher of the month" in June.

Jose Guillen's rib cage pull as gotten worse of the past few games, and will likely sit for the rest of the series. He will replaced by a lineup that includes Marlon Byrd in one of the outfield positions.

The Nationals are attempting to win their fourth game in a row after suffering three consecutive setbacks that ended against the Cubs.

The Grass Is Always Greener ...

ME: Korth, go mow the back yard, will ya?
KORTH: Why don't you come help me, and we'll play some catch afterward
ME: Sorry bud, but Tony Armas is pitching tonight and I want to listen to the game on XM
KORTH: Please?
ME: Go ahead, bud. I'm going to pull rank on you tonight. I really want to listen to the game
[15 minutes later]
KORTH: Dad, I'm done ... want to look out your window and see what you think?
I saw this from my window, my back yard with a script "W" across it.
KORTH: Now Dad, you really don't want me to destroy this work of art, do you???
ME: [sigh] OK if we play catch after the game??
KORTH: Sure. I'll come listen to the game with you
Sometimes, even when you lose, you win

View From The Other Side

It's always interesting to see how the opposing team's newspaper views a game after their team loses. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article is here.

The Journal-Sentinel saw the loss as a result of baseball being a "game of inches." If Nick Johnson's line drive towards Junior Spivey was only an inch or two closer, then it's a entirely new baseball game.

If RFK Stadium's mound was like the other major league mounds, then Brewer's pitcher might have pitched a better game.

Brewers manager Ned Yost said his players "hit some balls right on the nose" that were nothing but loud outs.

If Brady Clark doesn't make that baserunning mistake in the first inning, perhaps he scores and the game takes on a different tone.

To be fair, pitcher Dave Davis said that, while the mound wasn't perfect, it was no excuse for his poor performance, noting Tony Armas Jr. used the same mound with far better results. I think this is going to be the mantra of all the visiting teams coming into RFK Stadium for the rest of the year. Before the first pitch is even thrown, they known, they just KNOW that there is going to be a problem with the pitcher's mound. I think that's great. Let the mound expand our ever widening home field advantage. "The ball doesn't travel" ... "The infield is choppy" ... The field doesn't drain" ... "There's too much foul ground" ... on and on it goes. Maybe baseball was more fun during the time of RFK's glory days, with less perfection and more "unique" occurrences during the game.

Look forward to the game tonight.

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