The Bleeding Stops As Livan Comes Through Again
Livan Hernandez threw 145 pitches before yielding in the 9th inning to the Chief, as the Nats won for the first time in 7 games, 4-2.
One game doesn't mean anything, but my, it was nice to win again. Nick Johnson hit his 9th home run and Cristian Guzman is beginning to show some signs of life at the plate [finally].
August will be the pivotal month in the Nationals first season in Washington. A good showing will erase their poor performance in July, when the team went from 5.5 games up to 4 games behind in the matter of 3 weeks. We can't expect the Nats to play like they did earlier in the season, as key players are either hobbled [Vinny Castilla] or playing poorly [Cristian Guzman] or in the minor leagues [Marlon Byrd]. If the Nats can play August and September 5 games over .500 each, the team will end the season with a record of 90-72, perhaps in contention for the wild card spot, perhaps not. Either way, a 90 win season following last year's 67 wins would be quite an accomplishment.
Let's see if they can do it.
More Of The Same
The losing streak hit six games Saturday when the Nats lost to the Marlins 3-0 Saturday. John Patterson, though a little wild, certainly pitched well enough to win, but these days, no-hitters aren't a guarantee that this team will pick up a win.
The Offense has proven that they aren't major league quality right now. Day after day, they score one run, no runs, two runs. Nationals GM Jim Bowden said yesterday that he was done trading, that the team that managed to get to 20 games over .500 with these players, and it's these players he'll take to the end of the season. The gauntlet, so to speak, has been thrown.
We are now in the flip side, the "Twilight Zone." We are experiencing the opposite of the first half of the season, when wins were coming with those same one run and two run offensive productions. The Nationals were not as good as their first half record, and they aren't as bad as they're second half record might end up being. One thing is for sure, and that is the story of the first season of the Washington Nationals will be full of ups and downs, broken bones and patched arms.
And we'll get through it just fine.
[July 28th] - Don't get mad at me, but I believe that the Washington Nationals have seen the last of first place for 2005 season. It's not because they're not winners. It's not because they're not trying. It's not because of team leadership. It's because they just aren't good enough.
Although this team's uniform is far more attractive than the one worn last year, the team itself is only a tiny bit better than the 2004 Expos. And in spite of a glaring lack of talent at many key positions, they are still going to end the season higher than most pundits thought.
So now the team is 3 games out of first. So what? This year was supposed to be [regardless of what Jim Bowden suggests] about seeing the kind of talent the team had, both at the major league level and in the farm system. More than half way through the season, we now have many of the required answers for next season:
Brian Schneider is one of the best catchers in the game. Lock him up in a long term contract.
Nick Johnson is too fragile to depend on him as an every day first baseman. Trade him to the American League, let him split time between first and DH
Jose Vidro might not be player he was two years ago, but he's still great. Keep him.
Christian Guzman isn't a major league baseball player anymore, but the closest talent in the minor leagues is 3-4 years away.
Vinny Castilla is done. Ryan Zimmerman is doing well at AA -- if he does well in a possible August promotion to New Orleans, then he needs to learn on the job next year in D.C.
Brad Wilkerson strikes out too much and is too inconsistent. I'd rather have a fleet footed lead off hitter instead.
Preston Wilson will be long gone come October 1st.
Although Jose Guillen is only a step or two away from super-stardom, he's too volatile. At a close play at 3rd against the Braves Thursday, he went "spikes up" and tried to hurt Chipper Jones. He immediately jumped up and apologized, but it was obvious; he aimed at Chipper's bad foot.
Livan Hernandez and John Patterson are #1 starters. I'd sign Esteban, cut loose Drese and we'll probably lose Armas to free agency anyway. Cordero is a stud, but his penchant for baserunners might catch up with him one of these years.
My guess is that the new owner will pump $30 million into the team's payroll. That translates into 2-4 quality starting players. Boom. Just like that, 2006 will bring a REAL pennant contender.
No worries mate.
It's A Long Walk home
As usual, Livan Hernandez pitched Brilliantly. As usual, the Nationals could only muster 2 runs during the game. Strangely, Chad Cordero blew a lead. In the past two games, both losses, the Nationals have played a total of 25 innings and have scored 3 runs. In those two games, when you don't include extra innings, the pitching staff gave up 2 runs in 18 innings.
The team is now going through a period that always seems to occur to formerly bad teams that all of a sudden become winners. They wake up one morning and find themselves 20 games over .500, and they think they are champions. They then lose a few games, say 3 out of 4, and they lose their confidence, they begin to believe that the winning streak was luck, and the long slide begins. We've all seen it many times and in many sports. Remember the Kansas City Royals just last year. They started the year under Tony Pena like they were the Yankees, but by the end of the season, they were barely a .500 team.
A loss that knocked the Nationals out of first place is bad enough. A loss to the team that took over first place makes it worse. But to lose on a hit batsman and a walk in extra innings is downright horrid. I said this series with the Braves was the turning point of the season and I meant it. I the Nationals are swept, if they don't rebound during these next two games, the mental state of the team will be such that bad things will begin to happen. How long before the pitching staff blames the offense for letting all those quality starts result in losses? How long before everyone blames Cristian Guzman? How long before Frank Robinson gets blamed? Or Jim Bowden? There' s nothing much else that the team can do in terms of trades or call-ups. There isn't anyone left in the minor league system that real trade value or that we are willing to trade, and we have no real excess at any one position that can be traded for help elsewhere. No, It's the guys on the team this morning who will finish writing the first chapter of Washington Nationals history.
That all said, I'm neither upset nor worried. In the midst of that 12 game win streak, I knew that sometime later in the season, a correction would take place. All those 1 run wins had to at some point even out. None of that concerns me. What does is the offense. Individually, outside of Guzman, everyone seems to be pulling their weight, yet collectively, that just isn't enough. I don't have the answer, except to say that .500 is what I hoped for by season's end, and .500 seems to now be a reasonable figure to expect. Certainly, the team can suddenly start another winning streak and leave the division in the dust, but unless the offense finds a way to produce runs, that will never happen.
Nats fans can't base the success or lack thereof on a quick start and slow finish. It's that final won-loss record that matters. And it'll be a good one too.
Time To Pummel The Peachtree
In Tuesday's game, is ace vs. ace, as 11 game winner John Smoltz goes against 12 game winner Livan Hernandez. Luckily for the Nats, after the hot streak that brought the Braves from 5.5 games back on July 4 to a statistical tie for first with the Nats less than two weeks later, the Braves have slowed down a bit as well. The Nationals could just as easily go into tonight's game 2 games behind the Braves as tied.
The good news is that Nick Johnson is expected to play; the bad news is that Jose Guillen may miss the rest of the series with that continuing sore wrist/hand. Vinny should also be back at third.
I have no idea what is going to happen. The Nats could suddenly find a way to win the close game again and leave Atlanta with a 3 game lead. Just as likely, however, is the Braves gaining that 3 game edge when the series ends on Thursday. The thing to remember is that the goal for this Nationals team was to finish somewhere between 81-85 wins, and they will do that without question. They are on pace to do what they set out to do. The Braves are the ones who are playing "behind expectations." Will they be able to surpass the Nationals? Very possible. But don't look for anyone else in the division to make a break; they just don't have the talent.
Smoltz vs. Hernandez. Couldn't be better than that.
Nats Lose Yet Again, Get Mugged In D.C.
It’s that time of year in Washington when it gets hot and muggy, and Congressmen and lobbyists are making plans to skip town for August. If you can’t leave DC this time of year, you get frustrated.
And the Nationals pitchers are frustrated.
Nationals pitchers have become familiar with the nasty end of one-run games. So far in July, the Nationals have lost 7 one-run games, and 3 two-run games. Most of our pitchers have been improving their ERAs, so an understandable frustration with the hitting squad is natural. This broke into the open a couple days ago when Livan Hernandez announced he would have season-ending surgery – announced, mind you, to the press, not to Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden, who were taken aback considering that Livan hasn’t had an MRI since May, and the surgery seemed elective at this time. He half-apologized and recanted the next morning.
Friday night was not a one-run loss.
If Ryan Drese isn’t frustrated with himself, then he should get out of baseball. Against the Astros he allowed the longest home run so far at RFK in the first inning, instantly setting the Nationals hitters a tough task to come back against Roger Clemens. The Astros kept coming back with more runs, more hits. Ryan Drese had a right to be frustrated with his defensive squad, after another Jose Vidro fielding error eventually led to another run in the third inning, and then some poor fielding choices by Brian Schneider allowed a double steal, including Adam Everett stealing home. At the seventh inning it all broke loose, with two consecutive four-run innings.
Those of you wondering why Frank Robinson doesn’t send Drese to the bullpen in favor of Sunny Kim need only watch the latter part of this game. In less than two innings, Kim took on 6 earned runs. Those of you wondering where Tomo Ohka is right now, he played Friday night as well and did indeed take a loss and allowed seven earned runs. That said, going into that game he still had a 3.39 ERA, though he has had trouble pitching deep into games. But then again, why worry about the path not traveled…
What do we say about last night’s game? Well that’s gotta be the low point, and if it ain’t we’re in deep . . . trouble. The highlight? The loud cheering of more than 38,000 fans who stayed deep into the game. That and the knowledge that at most we’ll have to play against Roger Clemens once more this season.
D.C. Basks In Glow Of Patterson's Performance
[July 19th] - As John Patterson warmed up before Tuesday night's game against the Colorado Rockies, he was very aware that the Nationals 5.5 game lead over the Atlanta Braves on July 4th has dwindled to a mere half game just two weeks later. A Nationals loss combined with a Braves win against San Francisco and Washington would find themselves out of first place for the first time since June 4th. John Patterson stepped up to make sure that wouldn't happen.
If anyone doubted that John Patterson is fast becoming an elite pitcher in the National League, Tuesday should end those doubts. Pitching into the 9th inning, the 27 year old right hander gave up only 3 hits while striking out 8. His ERA is 2.69, best among the Nationals starters. A team is lucky to have one stopper on their pitching staff. It's beginning to look like Washington has two.
Kudos to Frank Robinson for refusing to allow his starting position players to continue to embarrass both himself and the city they represent. Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla sat down. I don't know if Vinny's date with the bench was injury related, but he needed to sit. Finally, Brad Wilkerson hit in a power position in the lineup. Jamie Carroll did well in his lead-off roll, getting 2 hits and raising his average to .251. Preston Wilson got another hit and now is batting .265. And what's the deal with Brian Schneider? With another hit tonight, his average is now up to .283, one of the top numbers on the team.
As badly as the team played Monday night, they played that well on Tuesday. Quality pitching. Sound fundamentals. Timely hitting. Now, let's be careful, though,because they played the Rockies. More to come.
Fallen On Hard Times ...
[July 18th] - I had a chance to watch the game on TV tonight. My part of Idaho gets the Colorado Rockies games on Fox. When the announcer said that the Rockies had won only 7 games on the road all year, I got worried. When Preston Wilson ran down a long fly and then tripped before catching it I got uneasy. And when Vinny Castilla let a ball go under his glove in the 9th inning for his second error of the night, I knew the bad times were going to continue at least one more day.
This was the worst game I have seen the Nats play this year. They seemed tentative, unsure, at times even unable. Christian Guzman was fielding worse than he was bunting, and his bunting was pretty lousy. I can't say if this is simply the correction that we all know had to come, or if something else is happening that we're not aware of. We got our injured players back, and trader Jim went out and got us the power bat we needed. Yet, they seem to be playing worse.
The good news is that Tony Armas is healthy. He was a casualty of the humidity and heat that has taken all of us down at one time or another. The bad news is Nick Johnson is still out and we need him soooo bad. Brad Wilkerson tries, he really does, but he's just not as good at first as Johnson.
This is not a time to panic or point fingers. Just as that 12 game winning streak was an anomaly, so too is this streak. They will likely end up canceling each other out. How the Nats finish the season depends on how they play the rest of their games, when we disregard the really, really good times, and the really, really bad ones.
What I don't understand, and maybe someone can help me out, is why this team is so bad offensively. With the exception of Guzman, all the players we have right now are good, proven professionals. Yet, all they seem to be doing is popping up and striking out. Maybe it's just a "phase." Maybe it's Bob Short's ghost coming back to haunt us. Whatever it is, I just hope it goes away soon. People are starting to laugh.
I'm At A Loss ....
[July 17th] - Ok, by tomorrow morning, the Nats blogs will likely be buzzing with prickly prose and damning profanity as loyal fans begin to seethe at Washington's poor play. "If they keep this up," they might begin, "any hope for the post season will be lost."
Hold that thought.
At the beginning of the season, most Nats bloggers, most Nats fans, most anyone with more than just a passing interest in the Nationals looked at their schedule, then their roster, then their payroll and said, "Hmmm, they'll win 75 wins just because they don't have to play in Montreal and Puerto Rico anymore, and 85 wins if they play at their best." Think about it. A team with a $47 million payroll winning 85 games. I mean, what's the chance, right? As things stand today, Washington will have to go 22-48 to win 75 games, and 32-38 to win 85 games. I'll take those odds, and I'll take the 85 wins.
Buster Olney and Peter Gammons be damned, this is not a team capable of staying in the hunt for the divisional crown come September. It's a good team, no doubt, but not a great team. And we shouldn't judge how they play the second half of the season based on that assumption. We can't count on Nick Johnson, Brad Wilkerson is not playing up to potential, Vinny isn't producing at a level required of a 3rd baseman, and Cristian Guzman keeps getting worse. There are parts missing, but help is on the way. By next spring, a new owner will likely increase the payroll from $47 million to around $80 million. That'll buy the Nats 4 quality players, be it position players or pitchers. So if this team can win 85 games with $47 million, what can they do with $80 million? They have 3 or 4 players in the minor league system that will be able to play at the major league level by 2007, and how much more will the owner add to the payroll when the team is ready to take its place in the new waterfront stadium?
I'm not writing off this season, only being realistic. I thought Brad Wilkerson would be able to hit 25 homers and strike out only 100 times. I was wrong. I thought Guzman would bat .250 and play stellar defense. I was wrong about that too. I believed that this was the year that Nick Johnson could play an entire season. That didn't happen.
The Nats could get hot again and win 12 out of 15, but it's going to be difficult. So let's set our goal at .500, and be happy when they reach their 81st win sometime in mid September. We'll then cheer each additional win until the end of the season. They don't need to have the pressure of trying to be a pennant winner right now. If they make it to the post season, then well and fine. But they have earned the right to just play as well as they can, and good things will happen more often than the bad if they are allowed to do that.
Let's give them a break.
Oh, So That's What It Feels Like To Win A Game
[July 15th] - I had almost forgotten what it felt like. Winning I mean. It's been almost two weeks since the team has won on a regular basis. Saturday night, in Milwaukee, Esteban Loiaza continued his excellent string of quality starts as the Nats held off the Brewers 5-3.
Offense. Man, why can't the team score a few runs. Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for the Texas Rangers or even Blue Jays type numbers. But I would certainly settle for just the league average, something above 4.00 runs per game. John Patterson should have won the first game and got nothing for his efforts but a lowered ERA. Livan should have won the second game but got nothing but a lowered ERA. Luckily for Esteban, the Nats went "wild" and scored 5 runs for him, allowing the veteran his 6th win of the season. With the exception of Cristian Guzman, every starter is a major league hitter, capable of producing each time he comes to the plate. But for some reason, they aren't. Is it the lineup? Is it the hitting coach?
No. This is a team that is overproducing. They are winning games in spite of a barely average offense. The team pitching and defense keeps them in every game. In the three Brewers games the team has given up 8 runs, a 2.48 ERA and yet won only one game. That's going to happen now and then. But we'll take the win, and take it gladly. The Braves won as well, and remain 1.5 games behind the Nats going into Sunday's games
Vinny Castilla had two more hits last night and raised his average to .261. Perhaps the rumors f his demise was greatly exaggerated [especially by me]. Jose Guillen, silent the first two games, came through with two hits and two driven in. While Jose Vidro only had one hit, it went 423 and further affirmed that his injury is a thing of the past. Preston Wilson didn't get any hits, but he walked twice and scored two runs. I'll take that. Cristian Guzman is now ofer the second half, and is hitting .193. Herein lies a big problem for the Nationals. As things stand now, the 8th and 9th hitters are automatic outs. If the team can't get its runs in by the 7th hitter, it just isn't going to happen. Mr. Bowden, the back side of the lineup is what needs fixing next.
The Braves now have both Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton back from the DL, and Chipper Jones returns in their next series against the Giants. the Braves keep getting better and the Nats, while they have gotten better, still can't score enough runs to remain in first place. If something doesn't happen soon, if the Nats don't start scoring like a major league team, don't be surprised to find the Braves in first place by weeks end. I'm not jumping ship. I'm a pragmatist and have warned of this possibility for a month. If Jose Vidro's return spiked the offense, then we'd be OK. It didn't. If the trade for Preston Wilson made a difference, then we'd be OK. So far it hasn't. We'll just have to see.
Different Names, Same Results
[July 14th] - The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although Preston Wilson homered in his first at-bat with the Nationals, the team was able to manage only 3 other hits as the Brewers came from behind in the 8th inning to defeat Washington, 4-2. John Patterson reinforced his status as a top of the rotation pitcher, allowing just 2 runs over 6 innings, striking out 9 and lowering his ERA to 2.92. But that was it. After all was said and done, after all the tinkering by GM Jim Bowden, the Nationals continue to sputter offensively, and the Gary Majewski still seems tired and over-used as he gave up a two run double to Damian Miller in the 8th that ultimately sealed the Nats fate.
Ryan Church wasn't able to start, so there is still some offense to be injected into the lineup tomorrow night. Cristian Guzman was a case of subtraction by addition for the Nationals. The troubled shortstop went 0-3 and dipped below the "Mendoza line" once again; he's now batting .198.
Luckily for the Nationals, the Mets beat the Braves tonight, keeping the team's lead over second place Atlanta at 2.5 games. We can't make any observations based on just one game back following the all-star game, except to say that a major league team needs to get more than 4 hits in a game to have much of a chance to win.
Looking Into The Future: Things That Have To Happen For The Nats To Make The Playoffs
The Washington Nationals inexplicably begin the second half of the 2005 season atop the National League Eastern division. Many things had to have happen to allow the former Expos to get there, and many things have to continue to happen to keep the Nationals there. Let's look at what those things are:
1]Nick Johnson has to play 65 games. Further, he needs to play at the level he showed the first half. But as much as the Nationals need his bat in the lineup, the team has to have his glove out there every day. I often listen to the opposing team's radio broadcasters, and to a team, each has raved about Nick Johnson's glove. Some have compared him to J.T. Snow, the goldest of golden gloves at first base. Brad Wilkerson can now fill in at first when he needs to, but it has to be less than 10 times if the Nats are going to succeed. Hoped for 2nd half production: .310-8-40
2]Jose Vidro must stay healthy. Perhaps the most devastating injury the team has experienced the past month [and there have been many] is that of Junior Spivey. With Spivey on the bench, manager Frank Robinson was able to exercise caution with Vidro's knee and ankle, giving him more days off. Now, Vidro is the only real option the Nationals have at 2nd base. Hoped for 2nd half production: .303-9-46
3]Vinny Castilla can't keep spiraling downward. Castilla started out the season as perhaps the finest hitter on the club, hitting as high as .342 in mid May. Slowly, however, Vinny's numbers started a slow but steady spiral downward. Today, he hits an occasional double, drives in a run now and then, but other then that, he's producing a lot of pop ups, clear indication of what Frank Robinson described as a "tired bat." Hoped for 2nd half production: .265-6-40
4]Livan Hernandez must keep that knee healthy. There is no question that Livan is getting by with guile and guts and not his usual stuff right now. His knee hurts every day and, at times, it's downright painful to watch him pitch. The Nationals are done without Livan. Without him, the team is seven games over .500 and fighting for a wild card berth. Hoped for 2nd half production: 9-3, 3.50
5]The entire outfield must learn to co-exist. The Washington Nationals now have five players who have been a starter on a major league baseball team. Brad Wilkerson, Ryan Church, Marlon Byrd, Jose Guillen and Preston Wilson must all get playing time and produce for the Nationals to win. We now have Wilson, and we have to use him, but I worry about a regression in both skills and confidence in Ryan Church. Had church played a full year, he would have hit .300 with 25+ homers and 85+ RBI's. So why a new outfielder? Brad Wilkerson. Wilkerson was quoted in a Washington Post piece that he might be the next to go. He may be only joking, but it would make the most sense. Wilson and Wilkerson are similar players, both with talent but with holes in their abilities. Church is the real deal.
Of course, there are many more ifs in play for the team to succeed in the second half. The bull pen can't be over used as it was in the first half ... Guzman has to at some point resemble a major league shortstop ... Tony Armas has to pitch like he's playing for a contract [oh, wait .. he is] . The Braves are coming and coming hard, make no mistake about it. Their all-star pitching tandem of Hudson, Thompson and Hampton are about ready to come off the DL. That only makes them better. If the Nationals play collectively, play as a group and a team, they'll win. But I must tell you that Jose Guillen is beginning to worry me. He is slowly but surely beginning to sound like that trouble maker that has made Washington his 7th team in less than a decade. Maybe the Preston Wilson deal was Jim Bowden hedging his bet if Guillen goes crazy. Of course, none of us know what lurks under the surface of the USS Nationals. All we can do is hope that the team has repaired the big leaks, and that the small ones won't create a buoyancy problem. We'll begin to find out tonight.
[July 14th] - As of Wednesday evening, Preston Wilson is a Washington National. The question is, what does he give us?
Preston Wilson is Brad Wilkerson with a little more speed. He strikes out too much, goes 1-4 too often, and is subject to prolonged streaks of nothingness. However, he can carry a team for weeks, even months, the way Jose Guillen has done for the team twice this year. Was it a good deal? If he produces, yes.I think Nick Johnson is hurt more than the team is saying. Brad Wilkerson will now go to first base, and Wilson, Church and Guillen will patrol the outfield. Don't let the "Coors Field" think fool you. Wilson produced while playing for the Marlins. He will be playing for a contract and the Nationals will get the best Preston Wilson has to offer.All the teeth gnashing is done now. Preston Wilson is a National. Let's see if he can play like one.
According To Sporting News, Nationals To Remain On Top In 2nd Half
[July 12th] - Most everyone is waiting for the the "great collapse" that will send the Washington Nationals from the top of the division to the bottom. Ever since the team took over first place in the National League East, it's been a matter not of "if" but rather "when" this will occur.
The "Sporting News," however, sees it differently. The magazine has broken down each team in to "pitching," "offense" and "defense," categories, and has given a rating of 1 [low] to 5 [high] for each. This is how they see the Nationals:
Offense  --- Pitching  --- Defense  --- Total 
The total of 13 points is best in the NL East. The Braves and Marlins are tied for second with 11, and the Phillies and Mets are tied for last with 9 points. The Nats are tied with the Cardinals and the White Sox for the very best in baseball.
The Sporting News is one of the few magazines/internet sites that see a bright future for the Nationals during the coming months. If all of the injured return to the team, and if Jim Bowden makes a few of his patented one-sided deals, then I'm with the Sporting News 100%. However, we'll just have to see what happens.
With Wilson Deal Nearing Completion, What Now?
[July 13th] - Two months ago, word spread across the beltway that Nationals GM Jim Bowden was in active discussion with the Colorado Rockies for their star outfielder, Preston Wilson. At that time, Ryan Church was the Washington player most coveted by the Rockies. Church was hitting .169 at the time, but it was easy to see Church's talent buried deep beneath the Mendoza line. No. No way we could trade the future of the Nationals for a rent-a-player, and the deal died a quick death when Ryan Church began his hitting streak.
Today, sources tell Nationals' fans that the deal is about done, that Preston Wilson has all but packed his bags in preparation for his trip to Milwaukee for Thursday night's game against the Brewers. This time, the Nat's will be giving up J.J. Davis, an outfielder that couldn't hit anywhere but Coors Field, and Zach Day, a pitcher whose sinker is designed exclusively for Coors Field. Not a single player on the major league roster will be lost in exchange for a player who, even at sea level, can hit 13 homers and drive in 45 during the second half of the season. Ok. Now what?
The word is that Wilson will take Ryan Church's place in the starting lineup, making Church the 4th outfielder and burying Marlon Byrd even deeper. Uh huh. So although we didn't actually trade Ryan Church for Wilson, we end up losing his bat in the lineup anyway. what makes matters worse, we lose a contact hitter for a Brad Wilkerson twin, someone who is going to strike out 150+ times each year. Has any team started two players who struck out more than 320 times combined in a year? If this trade goes down, the Nationals will have just that.
Look, I'm not opposed to the trade. I'm opposed to who the trade replaces. Ryan Church will only get better with playing time. If we bring in Wilson, then let's trade Brad Wilkerson for some more pitching or a 3rd baseman who can hit during the 2nd half of the season. I'm all for player moves, but they have to make sense both today and in the years to come. Putting a guy who is hitting .320 on the bench for a guy who's hitting .260 doesn't make sense to me.
Favorite All-Star Memory: HONDO WHACKS LONG ONE
[July 12th] - By the time the Major League All-Star game came around, there wasn't much to cheer about when it came to the Washington Senators. Their record was about 32-50, buried in last place, and most of Washington was looking north to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, waiting for the beginning of the Redskins training camp. But each of the last four years the Senators were in D.C., we at least had something to look forward to: Frank Howard was an All-Star.
He didn't do much in 1968, his first year as an All-Star. Of course, no one did. The National League won the game 1-0 when they scored on a double-play with the bases loaded. The game was played in the expansive Astrodome, and it was the year of the "pitcher." I'd say that 1-0 was a high scoring game. 1970 & 1971 weren't much better for Hondo. He started, got a few at bats but didn't do anything except make Senators' fans proud that we had someone on the all-star team [of course, everyone did, but that didn't matter].
It was 1969 that was the special year. 1969 was baseball's 100th anniversary, and the all-star game was played in RFK Stadium. 45,016 fans poured into the stadium, and then a funny thing happened. It poured. Boy did it pour. For hours, Major League Baseball hoped that the skies would clear, but once they showed the river flowing down the steps from the field and into the dugouts, it became clear that the game would have to be cancelled. The game was played the next afternoon. Frank Howard batted 5th, and was given an ovation so huge that the big guy got misty for a few moments during introductions. The National League won the game 9-3. Willie McCovey hit a couple of homers, Johnny Bench hit one too, and Carl Yaztremski made a great catch in the outfield. Frank Howard got one at bat, and launched a long homer off the back wall against Cardinal lefty Steve Carlton. The stadium erupted for five minutes. To makes things a little more special, for the first time in recent memory, the Senators had two players on the team, as ace reliever Darold Knowles joined the squad, pitching 2/3 of an inning, giving up no hits.
Frank Howard made this 13 year old very happy that day. I didn't care a lick that the American League lost. Frank Howard hit a home run and life was good.
New Stadium Should Incorporate Much Of What Opposing Teams Hate About RFK
[July 12th] - Oakland reliever Justin Duchscherer felt it. All of the Oakland Athletics players and coaches noticed it. They had thought playing at RFK Stadium would be similar to Camden Yards in terms of the weather, but it wasn't. Said Duchscherer, "Our starting pitchers were coming into the dugout after the third or fourth inning and saying, 'Man, I'm done, I'm out of gas.'" This was in June. While some players see the humid weather as a friend to the Nationals, kind of a sticky version Denver's "mile high" advantage, other players see the stadium as the real home field advantage. Players refer to it as "Retro Field" and "The Great Outback." Billy Wagner joked, "Isn't this how stadiums looked during the dead-ball era?" Florida catcher Paul LoDuca said it best:"RFK is huge. A lot of guys come back to the dugout shaking their heads." The entire National League East is based on big, burly home run hitters, that "station to station" kind of scoring that would make Earl Weaver proud. That doesn't work at RFK. The teams who can downshift, pop the clutch and switch gears can win there. But please, don't ask Ryan Howard to steal 2nd with two out.
The great majority of players today have never played in a "real" baseball park, one where you had to earn your home runs by crushing the ball with all your might. They don't know a time when opposite field homers were rare. In 1991, Camden Yards became the "cookie cutter" design that the next generation of stadiums were patterned after. Foul ground was replaced by expensive box seats. The total square footage of fair territory in these new stadiums was down by as much a 4%. Check swings became doubles to the wall. Pop flies became home runs. Bad players became sluggers and sluggers became hall-of-famers. When the Expos moved to Washington, old school baseball was back in business.
Opposition hitters have complained since opening day that the fences were much farther than their markings indicate. "Too much foul ground" they complained. Home run hitters didn't feel quite as strong when they stepped to the plate at RFK. Some of these complaints are true, of course, but mostly, RFK has "freaked out" the opposition. Mike Lowell said, "I'm standing near third base, and I look over to the stands and, man, it's like their bouncing up and down. I'm not an engineer or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to happen. I kept waiting for the whole thing to come tumbling down on me." Luis Gonzales was not as concerned with the stadium itself, but who was there. "The Box seats are like a who's who in politics." Players are watching their President instead of the hitter.
Memo to the HOK architects, the folks designing the new stadium: The Mayor has assured Washingtonians that our new stadium will not be a carbon copy of Camden Yards, or Jacobs Field, or any of the other band-boxes that dot the MLB scene today. Good. But you have to go farther. Leave the field a wide expanse. Keep the foul territory generous and ample. Force the Nationals to create a team that is fast and defensively sharp. Keep a bevy of quality pitchers on the staff. Bring in a bunch of line drive hitters to fill the roster. Sean Casey is an example of the type of player that would do well at the new, large park. Sean Casey can hit a line drive into the gap at Camden Yard for a double. Sean Casey can hit that same line drive into the gap at RFK or it's replacement and find himself at third base. This quick, line drive type of offense will work here in Washington, and will work well in Philadelphia or Cincinnati. The reverse doesn't hold true, however. Many of Carlos Delgado's long drives will be caught on the warning track at RFK, and it's hard to change the makeup of a team for a 3 game series.
Washington's fans are watching real baseball at RFK. We're beginning to again realize that triples are just as exciting to watch as a home run, that speed has a value equal to power.
I hope that the new stadium will be created to keep making the opposing teams upset about it's dimensions and design. Luis Gonzalez complained about the small size of RFK's visitors clubhouse. Fine. Make is smaller. Mike Lowell didn't like the way the 3rd base stands bounced. Cool. Make ALL the stands bounce. It's these distractions that give teams like the Nationals the edge. No reason at all these "edges" have to stay behind when the team moves to the new park.
Tire Loose On Nationals Buggy, But Still Hanging On By A Nut
[July 10th] - The Washington Nationals lost Sunday's game to the Philadelphia Phillies, limping into the all-star break having lost 5 out of their last 7 games. The good news is that the Braves lost their last two to the Brewers, and remain 2.5 games out of first place. In the Next few days, bodies will heal, arms will rest, and Jim Bowden will make a move, perhaps many moves, that will allow the Nats to continue their improbably run.
I'm very proud of the way the Washington Nationals lost today's game, 5-4, in 12 innings. Ryan Church was unavailable. Cristian Guzman was unavailable. Nick Johnson was unavailable. Tony Blanco was suffering from dizziness and was forced to pinch-run. Brian Schneider left the game with the same dizziness problem. It seemed the Nationals played the game with half a roster, which is about how they played the entire first half of the season.
From all reports, the Nationals will enter the second half of the season with all their starters healthy and ready. Hopefully, the team will have a new player [Preston Wilson maybe?] to add depth and power, both badly needed if this team is going anywhere the second half. Junior Spivey will be gone for 3 months, which really hurts, But Jose Vidro seems healthy and is certainly picking up offensively where he left off May 4th.
The pitching staff is in great shape. The bullpen is tired, and another arm couldn't hurt. But there is nothing in the cards that indicates the Nationals will fold in the second half. Health = hope; that should be the Nationals mantra for the rest of the year.
Let's all take a deep breath and tomorrow we'll take a close look at what we might expect during the second half of the season. Right field might provide us with an even bigger surprise, while 3rd base could become a real problem unless a trade is made for someone like Joe Randa. We'll use the all star break to take a close look at the Nats good and bad. Don't worry. There is a lot more good than bad. Except that 3rd base problem; I'm really beginning to worry about Vinny, he .....
The Washington Nationals lost their fourth game in six tries Saturday afternoon against the Phillies. That the Nationals lost isn't in and of itself terribly important. Our goal is to win each series, and that can still be accomplished tomorrow. That the Nationals were shut-out isn't terribly important either, as the Nationals aren't known for their offense, especially when three of their top starters are out with injuries, and one is just back from the DL and trying to get his "sea legs."
There were, however, two important things that came out of Saturday's game. One, John Patterson continues to prove to both fans and management that he is, is a consistent, top-notch starter for the team. Patterson's ERA is now a sterling 2.91. Look at the pitching lineup the Nats can throw: Hernandez: 3.48 - Patterson: 2.91 - Loiaza: 3.61 - Drese: 2.90 and Armas, still trying to shake the effects of his injury, 4.97. Combine these five with the back of the bullpen, and you've got a pitching staff that can win each and every night they play.
The second important thing to come out of the loss: Junior Spivey. Spivey fractured a bone in his arm and is due to have surgery next week. He will be out 3-4 months, effectively the rest of the season. No longer do the Nationals have a seasoned veteran who can spell Vidro a couple games a week so that he doesn't wear down too fast in the hot July heat at RFK. This one hurts. We're now back to having Jamie Carroll as the sole backup at second and short, and he has shown that his production drops as his playing time increases.
The positive side of all these injuries is that the Nationals will go to spring training in 2006 with virtually 2 starters at every position. The negative side is that is all but ends all of the hopes the Nationals had for holding onto first place, especially considering the way the Braves are playing right now. I'd say NOW is the right time to pull the trigger on the Preston Wilson trade.
Is It Worth It?
Earlier this year, Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd and our own Jim Bowden spent a great deal of time trying to work out a deal that would have brought Preston Wilson to the Nats. The cost? Too much. Entirely too much. As part of the package, the Nats would have had to give up Ryan Church, who was has having a "Rookie of the year" campaign until he was hurt two weeks ago. He still may. I was totally against this trade. The last thing we needed, I thought, was another outfielder who was going to strike out 150 takes this season.
The talks have renewed the past few days and the cost for Wilson has gone down considerably; J.J. Davis and Zach Day. The question seems to be the amount of Wilson's contract the Nationals would have to pick up. I'm more inclined to go with this deal now if the team can get it done.
Nick Johnson has again shown that he just might not be able to stay healthy for an entire year. By making this deal, the Nats would have an outfield rotation of Wilson, Brad Wilkerson, Ryan Church, Marlon Byrd and Jose Guillen. If Johnson can't play, Wilkerson can always take over for him at first base. This move would give the Nationals a glut of outfielders, but too many is better than too few. If needed, the Nationals could package Junior Spivey and one of the extra outfielders for pitching if it becomes needed later in the month.
Aubrey Huff is another outfielder who is available, but he isn't putting up his usual offensive numbers, and while he plays several positions, he doesn't play any of them very well, and the Nats are a defense first type of team.
The Nats need a bat, and an arm. Wilson could provide the bat. Now let's see what we can do about the arm.
Tag, We Win
But this one didn't.
Even ahead 5-0 in the 5th, with Ryan Drese having given up but one hit, things felt a little "iffy." Maybe it was those five walks Drese gave up. Maybe it was because as the game progressed, Drese kept missing, but kept missing high, which is his death knell. Just ask the Rangers. Very quickly, it was 5-3 and the Nationals seem headed for "that" loss that would spin a superb season into one that "almost was."
Carlos Baerga seemed unwilling to allow the Phillies back in the game, and punched an Aaron Fultz fastball juuuuust into the left field stand for a 3 run home run. He got the opportunity because the Phillies intentionally walked Jose Guillen to make sure he wouldn't hit a 2 run homer. Well, it worked I guess. But the Phillies weren't done. They came back one more time in the 7th inning. With the score 8-6, and two runners on, rookie Ryan Howard launched a ball that missed leaving the park by just a couple of feet. Instead, it bounced to Brad Wilkerson, who fired the ball to Jamie Carroll, who threw a strike home to cut down Pat Burrell at the plate to end the inning. In the 9th, Chad Cordero got the Phillies 1-2-3 and the Nats came away with a shaky 8-7 victory. I say 1-2-3 but really it was OH MY GOSH!-2-3, as Ryan Howard was only inches away from tying the game with a homer to center field. Even Frank Robinson thought the ball was gone.
What lessons were learned from the Friday night's game? The back end of the bullpen is still tired, as Luis Ayala and Joey Eichen gave up 3 runs in a combined one inning of work. When Ryan Drese has his sinker working, he's our best pitcher. When it's not, the Nats need to score lots of runs for him to win. Drese is 3-1 for the Nationals, and will likely end the season with 15 or so wins. Not a bad waiver wire pickup, huh? Vinny Castilla is spriraling downward again; his batting average is .255 and falling. For a team missing 3 of their starters, they're still doing some pretty amazing things.
NATS NOTES: There is still talk of a Preston Wilson to the Nationals trade. Phillies broadcasters said this evening that the Nats have offered Zach Day and J.J. Davis for the Rockies outfielder. Boy, I'm not a big Preston Wilson fan but I'd do that deal in a second ... Matt Cepicky got two more hits tonight and drove in 3 runs ... Ryan Church and Nick Johnson are both ready to begin rehab assignments this weekend. Hopefully, It'll be awhile before Guzman is ready to come back ... In the battle between traded outfielders, Marlon Byrd had a double and Endy Chavez a triple.
Braves Pockets Deeper Than the Nationals, And I'm Not Talking Dollars
The Washington Nationals have finally, for a little while anyway, come back down to Earth. After losing 3 of 4 to the last place Mets, they find themselves no longer six games ahead of the Braves. This morning, it's the Nationals who are struggling and the Braves find themselves just 2.5 games behind the stumbling Nationals.
Now, don't get me wrong. The Nationals deserve to have had a hard week. Nick Johnson, DL. Ryan Church, DL. Cristian Guzman, hurt. Jose Vidro, just back. On and on it goes. The Nats have lost their front line players and have had to replace them with, for the most part, players who couldn't find their way onto any other major league clubs, players like Wil Cordero and Carlos Baerga.
The Atlanta Braves have had pretty much the same problem as the Nationals. Hudson, DL. Thompson, DL. Hampton, DL. Kolb, bombed. Brian Jordan, DL. Raul Mondesi, bad mistake. The Atlanta DL is very similar to the Nationals.
Here's the difference.
When the Braves lose a player, they dig deep into their rich farm system and bring up a player who is ready to play major league baseball. Kelly Johnson. Ryan Langerhans, Brian Boyer,Wilson Benemit, Andy Marte, Brian McCann, Pete Orr, and now, Jeff Francoeur was called up from AA Mississippi and launched his first hit last night, a homerun to right-center field. The Nationals have Wil Cordero and Carlos Baerga to fill their voids.
It had to happen. The Nationals had to hit a rough spot and lose a few games. How great was it that the Nats were 6 games up when the boo-boos began. During spring training, Jim Bowden said, "The starting lineup is fine, it's the thin roster that worries me." Looks like Mr. Bowden was clairvoyant. Omar Minaya traded Jason Bay, Grady Seizemore and many others for "rent-a-players" during a make believe pennant run in 2003. He left for New York because he knew that he skinned the farm system, and that MLB wasn't about to put any money into scouting and signing young players.
Jim Bowden has to deepen the roster and do it quickly. The Nationals have to get the team healthy and do it quickly. Expectations have been raised so high that an 87 win season might be seen as "coming up short." A healthy team and a few new warm bodies gets the Nats 90-95 wins, and oh, how fun the hot stove league will be over the winter.
The Great Leveling Begins?
Finally, the lack of hitting teamed up with a tired bullpen and things aren't looking quite as rosy as they were. In fact, it was luck that the Nats won the game they did the other night.
I've got a zillion things to do tonight, so I'll make this as short as I can. This was either a small "bump in the road" or the great leveling out is beginning. I think it's a little bit of both. As much as I love the Nats, they don't have the talent to win 100 games. They are an 85-95 win team, and we're going to see a few more of these losing skids during the second half of the season. Arms are tired. Luck, while not entirely gone, is running out a wee bit. Don't get me wrong, they'll start up another 6 out of 8 streak any time now, but we can't expect them to just "show up" and win every game.
They're a very good team, but not a great one. Teams with a $47 million dollar payroll just can't throw their gloves on the field and win 100 games. We've got to be fair to the players as well as our hopes.
Livan Hernandez. So Who Knew?
[July 6th] - About a second after the D.C. City Council finally, formally approved the building of a new baseball stadium, I began surfing the net, learning as much as I could about our new, as yet unnamed team. There were several players that intrigued me, but none of them were named Livan Hernandez.
I thought I knew a lot about him after watching him pitch against the Braves the last decade. He was 'ok' but nothing more. He didn't have a fastball. He always gave up 3-4 runs. He didn't look much like a pitcher. I was satisfied to have him on the team, but I didn't see him as anything more than a .500 pitcher.
Livan began his major league career as a defector from the Cuban National team. He signed with the Marlins and began his career in 1997. He won 35 over 4 years before begging traded to the Giants for a minor leaguer named Jason Brilli. He won 42 games in this 3 full seasons with the Giants, yet was traded again, this time to the Expos, for Jim Brower and Matt Blank. Livan won 26 games in two years with the Expos. With the Nationals, Livan goes for his 13th win tonight, and is on pace to win 25 games. So what's the deal here?
Hernandez averaged 10 wins per season with the Marlins, 14 with the Giants, and 13 with the Expos. Yet he has been traded twice, each time for lesser players. he is a quiet leader in the clubhouse, and never creates a problem with management over money. Yet, for some reason, he never seems wanted by the team who owns his contract.
Livan is one of those pitchers whose talents don't show up on a stats sheet. He pitches when he's sick, he pitches when he doesn't have his bet stuff, he pitches against teams who "own" him. He pitches into the 8th inning almost every outing, saving the arms of the bullpen for the other starters. His ERA is higher than Pedro and the other "stars" because he never asks to come out when he tires. He pitches and pitches and pitches. His stats aren't sexy. He gives up one hit per inning, strikes out less than one per inning, and walks as many as he needs to find the person he wants to get out. He pitches as an intellectual, and those types of pitchers never shine statistically.
So, I wasn't impressed with him. Neither were the Marlins. Or the Giants. But at the end of the game, when *Bang! Zoom* go the fireworks, Livan's team usually is the winner. The entire Nationals team is a lot like Hernandez.
No one has particularly fancy statistics, but they know how to win. The Nationals lead the league in sacrifice flys, sacrifice bunts, best percentage of ground outs to fly outs, etc. etc. etc. The Nationals' talents connect each player to the other, allowing a different player to carry the team each night.
Thank you Livan. and the rest of you guys. You've certainly touched my heart. But not with the wins, but rather the way you win.
** FAN-O-GRAM TO DIMITRI**
Trades I'd Like To See The Nationals Make
The Washington Nationals are 51-32, and first place in the National League East. After losing a game they should have won, they made up for it the next day by beating Pedro Martinez, a pitcher they should have lost to.
So, since the team is on the way to 100 wins, they should stand pat and enjoy the ride. Right?
We need to make a few trades to make a good team a great one. And the scary thing is, we can afford to do it.
Trade #1 Leadoff batter. No one inside the beltway thinks that Brad Wilkerson is the answer at the top of the lineup. His power is wasted [though power is a problem for him this year] and he doesn't put the ball in play often enough. As of this morning, Wilkerson is striking out 30% of the time he comes to the plate.
Juan Pierre of the Marlins, a prototypical leadoff hitter, is striking out 9% of the time. Wilkerson has put the ball in play 75 fewer times based on strikeouts alone. So, lets trade Wilkerson for Pierre. The Marlins have other players speedy enough to lead off. The Marlins could then put Wilkerson in the middle of the lineup, strike out 150 times, hit 35 homers and do what his body is meant to do.
Trade#2 Shortstop. I don't think Guzman will ever be a credible shortstop on real grass. Someone will take him, and it doesn't matter if we can anything back in return. But how about Omar Vizquel who is languishing in San Francisco. He signed late in the free agent period because of his age, and signed for less than he wanted Vizquel is batting .303 with 14 stolen bases. He signed a one year contract, and obviously, with the Giants 34-48 and not in contention for the post season, they'd love to get a medium prospect for Vizquel. Who? We have two top-notch closers in the system right now. Give the Giants one of them.
Trade #3 Third Base. I don't trust Vinny Castilla's stamina for the rest of the year. We've already seen his numbers drop significantly across the board over the past month. What makes anyone think his "slow bat" will regain its speed? The Braves might like him as insurance in case Chipper doesn't come back soon enough or good enough. I'd take Danny Kolb in return, and give him the chance to come back slowly in the middle of the bullpen. Joe Randa would be a great replacement for Castilla. His glove is just a tad below Vinny's, and his bat remains consistent.
He is batting .300 with 12 homers and 44 RBI's. He's sure not in the long term plans for the Reds. We could get him fairly easily [one prospect and a reserve currently on the team perhaps].
With these three trades, the offense would become faster and more consistent. The defense becomes far better [especially as shortstop]. And though it would cost the team some money, Bowden has said over and over that he's got $5-7 million to spend.
We can win the pennant with Wilkerson in the outfield, but I don't think we can with Vinny and Cristian at short and 3rd.
Nats Beat Pedro, Begin New Streak
Grim yes, but impossible no. You see, the Nationals had a "secret weapon." Jose Vidro was back in the lineup for the first time since May 4th.
Pedro pitched well, just not well enough. He gave up 3 runs over 7 innings, good enough to pick up a win most nights. But not tonight.
Esteban Loiaza was persona non grata for most of the off season. Although he made the 2004 all-star team, he pitched poorly for the Yankees, and the other 31 major league teams believed that he no longer had the ability to get out major league hitters. Bowden, worried about a razor-thin pitching staff, signed Loiaza, and crossed his fingers. He didn't start the season particularly well, but he has been as reliable as Livan the last 8 starts.
But the biggest story was not Esteban's outstanding outing, or Pedro Martinez taking only his 3rd loss of the season.
No, the big story is the return of Jose Vidro, who has been on the disabled list since hurting his ankle against the Dodgers on May 4th in Los Angeles. And it didn't take long to reap the dividends. In the 7th inning, Vidro lined a shot down the right field line for a run scoring double. The Nats won by a single run, so we can point to Jose Vidro as the hero of tonight's game.
This was such an important game for the Nationals. After losing last night, and facing Pedro Martinez tonight, the Nats could have easily woke up tomorrow morning the owners of a two game losing streak. Showing the resilience they have displayed all year, they beat one of the top pitchers in the National League. The Chief saved his 30th game of the year, and the Nats are back to 19 games over .500.
More to Come
Happy 4th of July
The Nationals lost 5-2 to the New York Mets, and I'll write about their game tomorrow morning. But tonight is fireworks night, the exclamation point of the 4th of July, and, if only for this one day, baseball must take a back seat.
I am an American by luck, not by birth. My family came to this country from Lebanon in 1959. I often think of what my life might have been like had my parents stayed in Beirut and lived through the civil war that killed more than a million people. I am so very grateful that America embraced me like it has embraced so many other over the past two centuries. I have tried to pay America back. I served my country in the military. I have returned to school to obtain my teaching degree so I can help the next generation appreciate the greatness of this land. No, America isn't perfect, but our system is designed so that those imperfections can be corrected by the will of the people. I have lived in 13 other countries and spent considerable time in another 25 or so. Let's never stop pointing out America's deficincies, but it's important to understand how the rest of the world lives before attacking the United States. And for the most part, the rest of the world would love to have our system of government.
Happy 4th of July to all of you.
Earlier in the day, I said that today's game was a "turning point" for the Nationals, that if Ryan Drese could pitch effectively for the third time in four games, the Nats could boast five quality starters in their rotation. The turning point went Washington's way, as Drese pitched seven scoreless innings, scattering four hits and walking no one. In his one poor outing, Drese gave up 5 runs in 3 innings. In his 3 superb starts, he gave up no runs over 22 innings. I think this pretty much proves it: The Rangers waiving Drese ranks right up there with trading Jorge Bell for Sammy Sosa. Now, every game is winable for the Nats. Every time that Drese pitches a gem, I always wonder how Mr. Ohka is doing in Milwaukee. Well, he's 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA since the trade -- very so so.
Now, on to Chad Cordero. Look, we all knew that sooner or later, he was going to blow one, and secretly, I'd guess that manager Frank Robinson was hoping he'd get it over with. So Cordero blew the save, but the Nationals still won the game. Talk about a win-win situation. I'm sure the pressure was building each time he took the mound, "Don't blow the streak" must have gone through his mind.
The Nationals showed me so very much this afternoon. This game was unimportant. The team was 18 games over .500 and well ahead of the second place Braves. Once Cordero blew the save, they could have relaxed and lost the game. They didn't.
They came back and scored two runs in the 11th to take a 4-2 lead, but the Cubs came right back and tied the game gain. Back came the Nats, and Brian Schneider's long home run in the 12th was finally enough to secure the win. It doesn't matter to this team that they're one game over .500 or one hundred games over; they play to win and they play to win every day. The Nats swept the Cubs without their starting first baseman, 2nd baseman, shortstop and left fielder. Sunday, they were without their back-up first baseman. It doesn't matter. Their third-string first baseman went 2-6 and made two great plays in the field. They keep on winning.
Junior Spivey hasn't had a great weekend in Chicago. He's ofer the windy city, and has struck out 9 times, lowering his average from .248 down to .232. Spivey is now 3rd in the league is strikeouts; Brad Wilkerson is 2nd. Marlon Byrd has had a tough series as well, going o-6 and seeing his batting average drop to .266. Byrd seems to play best when he plays least, coming off the bench as a pinch hitter or taking Ryan Church's place when the team faces a nasty left hander. Jamie Carroll's batting average is dropping again now that he's playing everyday. His .262 average has dropped to .242 thanks to an 0-6 Sunday. On the positive side, Brian Schneider continues his hot hitting. He hit his 6th homer and is now batting .271, offensive icing on a defensive cake.
The Nationals finished the first half of the season with a 50-31 record, half way to a hundred win season. They've done this with a tiny payroll and a huge disabled list. Many say that the team will get better when the team gets healthy, but I'm not so sure about that. They are winning as a team, and it doesn't matter if Nick Johnson or Wil Cordero or Carlos Baerga is at first. The team manufactures its runs, and seems to be able to do it with most anyone they have.
As long as the pitching remains solid, as long as the defense remains sharp, the team will continue to win. Will they win 100? No. But in order to win 90 games, they'll have to go 40-41 the rest of the way. Is that likely? No. Look for 94-96 wins and a [dare I say it] a division championship.
The 1969 Mets were "Amazin." The 2005 Nationals are unbelievable.
Turning Point In Nats Season Today At Wrigley
I know, I know. The Nationals are a season high 18 games above .500, have already won the series against the Cubs, and are 5.5 games in front of the second place Braves. So why is today a "turning point" for the Nationals? Easy.
Jim Bowden took a chance when he traded a very grumpy but equally serviceable Tomo Ohka to the Brewers for 2nd baseman Junior Spivey. Bowden Claimed Drese off waivers to replace the departed Ohka in the rotation. In his first game, Drese pitched 8 innings, holding the Angels to a pair of singles. Then he met the Pirates. Mr. Drese, meet the Pirates. Pirates, meet Mr. Drese. The former Texas Ranger gave up 5 runs in 3 innings and learned first hand about manager Frank Robinson's "quick hook." Drese was given an opportunity for redemption, however, as he pitched against the Pirates when the two teams moved to RFK Stadium. Redemption sought, redemption received. Drese pitched 8 innings, giving up 5 hits and a run, lowering his Nats ERA to 2.84.
OK, so here's where the "turning point" comes in. If Drese pitches well this afternoon, if he builds on his last outing against the Pirates, if he has another quality start, it would give him 3 good starts out of 4, and the Nats can then count on him as a quality 5th starter. Livan, Loaiza, Patterson and Armas are all proven pitchers.
With a good outing today, we can add Drese to that list and Washington can head into September with the "petal to the metal" and "balls to the wall" [that doesn't mean what you think it means]. No opposing team could catch the Nats in a series without facing our good pitchers, because they are all good.
I'd rather see the Nationals lose 2-1 today instead of winning 9-8. When you're 18 games over .500, and almost 6 games ahead of the 2nd place team, a win is not as important as a statement. And Ryan Drese giving up only a run or two would be quite a statement.
NATS NOTES: ... A win today would give the Nats 50 wins, the earliest the Expos/Nationals, or any D.C. baseball team would have reached that mark ... the '94 Expos won their 50th on July 6th, and the '24 Senators won their 50th on July
5th ... the Nationals home winning percent of .744 is tops in the major leagues; the White Sox are 2nd at .692 ... Since June 24th, the Nats starting pitchers have a solid 3.31 ERA while the bullpen has fashioned an outstanding 1.96 ERA ... Zach Day, trade bait extrodinaire, gave up one run in three innings pitching for Harrisburg last night ... Jose Vidro went 0-1 with two walks for Potomac ... the Nats have batted only .205 with runners in scoring position during that last 15 games [11-4] -- gee, maybe all this is just luck after all :) ... Jose Guillen now has more home runs than all of the Expos right fielders did for 2004 ... Marlon Byrd is the Nats MVP ... the team was 19-17 before he joined the club and 30-14 since his arrival.
Home Field Ivy Works Against Cubs, Burnitz As Nats Keep On Rolling
The Washington Nationals have done it again. Jose Guillen staked his team to a first inning, 1-0 lead for the second day in a row, and Washington's defense and Tony Armas' arm lead the Nationals to a 4-2 win over the highly talented but underperforming Chicago Cubs.
The Nationals are now 49-31, 5.5 games in front of the suddenly shaky Atlanta Braves. The Marlins are 7 games out, the Phils 8.5 game behind, and the Mets are in last place, 9 games behind the front running Nationals. Think about it: The Nats could lose five in a row the Braves could in five in a row, and Washington would still be in first place. The St. Louis Cardinals, for much of the season light years ahead of the rest of the teams, are but 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals for the best record in the National League.
There comes a point when we have to try to make sense out of something that makes no sense at all. When the Nationals had a full roster earlier in the season, they were winning many of their games. As they began to lose their key players, they increased their winning percentage. Now, four of their starters are injured and they have responded by winning eight of their last ten games. The Nats are 5th in the National League in ERA, 8th in team batting average, last in home runs and 15th in runs scored. Every statistic, every player on the disabled list, every situation would indicated that the Nationals should be in the cellar, combing their minor league system for some help, some hope for the future. Jim Bowden should be in front of the cameras, explaining that if all eight of his starters hadn't missed time due to injury, the Nationals might have had a chance to reach the .500 mark. Team President Tony Tavares would still be apologizing for the small payroll the team had to work with, but with a little patience, the future would be bright.
Of course, none of that is necessary. The Nationals are on track to win 100 games. What happens when the team begins to get back their top stars, and a thin roster suddenly becomes deep and talented? Will they win even more games? One day very soon, Jim Bowden will announce that the team has spent that $5 million or so they have in reserve on that big bat they needed, or that strong arm for the starting rotation. How much better can this team get?
The Nationals have defied the odds all season long. I'm finally beginning to believe that they are the team to beat in the NL East. They beat the good teams, they beat the bad ones. No franchise is immune to the Nationals magic.
Expect a sweep tomorrow.
Nats Catch Break Against Cubs, Face Jerome Williams Saturday
[July 2nd] - Now, don't get me wrong. For all I know, Cubs pitcher Jerome Williams might pitch a 3 hit shutout. But I'll take that chance. He's not Carlos Zambrano. He's not Kerry Wood. He's not Greg Maddux. I like those odds. However, Williams faces Tony Armas Jr, and that greatly evens the odds for a Nationals' win.
Don't let his lack of "name recognition" fool you. Williams has a career record of 18-14 with a good 3.87 ERA. He came to the Cubs in the LaTroy Hawkins deal earlier this year. He's got a quality change up that adds speed to his low 90's fastball. He has troubles going deep into games, and he'll need to learn a third pitch if he is going to be an effective pitcher in the National League. It's hard to say why the Giants gave up on him after winning 10 games in 2004.
Since coming to the Cubs, he's pitched well. Over two games, he has pitched 9 innings, giving up 2 runs, walking 5 while striking out 8. However, 7 of those innings were against the Brewers, so he has yet to prove himself against a quality opponent.
Tony Armas has been, well, bad. In his last 2 games, covering 9 innings, Armas has given up 10 hits and 12 runs, striking out 8 and walking 7. Tony Armas has the talent to be a quality pitcher. Heck, he has been a quality pitcher. But as of right now, when Armas goes to the mound, the Nationals are in a position to lose.
Two games short of the half way point of the season, the Nationals have spent more time in first place than any other slot in the Eastern division ... days in first (38) days in second (7) days in third (37) days in fourth (7) days in last (0) ... Only St. Louis and Atlanta have more road wins than the Nationals ... Livan's 6 road wins is more than all of last year's starters combined ... The Nats were a league best 20-6 in June ... Washington continues to lead the major leagues in one run wins.
No Church, No Guzman, No Johnson, No Problem
[July 1st] - I didn't give the Nationals much of a chance to win not only Friday's game, but any of this weekend's games against the Chicago Cubs. From Derrek Lee to Aramis Ramirez, from Mark Prior to Kerry Wood, this is a team of stars and all-star talent. I really thought that the Nationals were going to get swept against the Cubs, and that the Nationals late season swoon would be traced back to this afternoon's game.
That lasted until the third batter of the game.
Jose Guillen launched a two out, 2-1 pitch into to the "batter's eye" above the ivy in deep centerfield to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead. the stunned Wrigley Field fans could only watch in silence as Guillen toured the bases.
Guillen's homerun wasn't the only good thing to happen in Chicago's "North Side" this afternoon. Cristian Guzman injured himself during the Pirates series and will sit the entire weekend series. Jamie
Carroll took his place and promptly went 2-4, singling home Brian Schneider in the 2nd and Marlon Byrd in the 3rd. Vinny Castilla singled home the final run for the Nationals in the 7th.
When the Cubs visited RFK Stadium earlier in the season, the Nats' pitchers kept Derek Lee's bat quiet the entire series. Not this time. Lee went 2-4 with a towering home run to right-center field. His second hit, a double, was from weirdsville, man. Hit almost to the same place as his homer but not as far, Guillen lost it in the sun and Lee ended up at 3rd base with a triple. But that is just the beginning of weirdsville. With the score 4-2 and Lee on 3rd, Jeromy Burnitz tattooed a long deep drive to right field that the 1st base umpire and the Cubs announcer called a fair ball. While the Cubs fans were dancing in the stands, and Ron Santo was still screaming "Fair, fair, fair," Frank Robinson calmly walked out of the dugout and towards the first base umpire. A few smiles and a couple of pointed fingers later, the umpires huddled and reversed the call. Although Burnitz later doubled and drove in Lee, the Nationals maintained their lead. But we're not done with weirdsville yet. With Burnitz on 3rd and one out, catch Brian Schneider took an outside pitch and rifled it to third where Vinny Castilla tagged out the unprepared Burnitz, and ended the last Cubs threat of the game.
With Chad Cordero needing some much deserved rest, Hector Carrasco took over for Hernandez in the 9th inning. Like Cordero, he made things a little difficult. He went 3-0 to first batter Mart Barrett before striking him out. He went 3-1 on second batter Roger Cedeno before striking him out. Cory Patterson grounded out to end the game. Final score: 4-3 Nationals.
Nats Notes After raising his batting average 13 points since joining the team, Junior Spivey went 0-5 and is now batting .240 ... Vinny Castilla got two more hits and is now batting .262, showing signs of having worked through his "tired bat" ... ">Brian Schneider, perhaps the streakiest hitter on the team got 3 more hits and is now at .270 ... Wil Cordero got 2 more hits, giving him 3 in last 2 games ... maybe Nick Johnson's injury is a Godsend, giving Cordero the chance to finally get some at bats ... Rick Short has been recalled from AAA New Orleans to replace Ryan Church, who has gone on the disabled list
Plea To Lee: Stay Home And Watch Dr. Phil
The Chicago Cubs scare the heck out of me, which is strange considering the Nationals have a 47-31 record, while the Cubs are only 40-37. So why am I concerned that the Cubs have the potential not only bet the Nats, but beat them good? Let's take a look at them.
1B]Derrek Lee: .379-23-65 ... Lee is simply the best position player in the major leagues today. The only way to stop him is to walk him, and he usually ends up scoring anyway.
2B]Todd Walker: .314-2-13 ... Walker has always been a good hitter but an average fielder.
SS]Neifi Perez: .279-7-29 ... Of course, he's not the Cubs first choice for short, that would be Nomar Garciaparra. But he's done a magnificent job both in the field and at the plate. They're not missing a beat without Garciaparra.
3B]Aramis Ramirez: .301-17-49 ... Ramirez is a top-notch 3rd baseman, and makes a perfect book end to the all-everything Derrek Lee. He'll end up with 35+ homers before he's done this season.
LF]Jason Dubois: .248-7-22 ... Finally, a hole in their lineup, but not for long. This young man has the potential to be a solid major league outfielder for years to come.
CF]Corey Patterson: .236-11-24 ... Nowhere near his talent level this year. In addition to his low average and RBI's, he's among the league leaders in strikeouts.
RF]Jeromy Burnitz: .275-13-43 ... Burnitz is a quality right fielder who gives the Cubs a 3rd strong bat in the lineup. Derrek Lee-Arimis Ramirez-Jeromy Burnitz is a potent 1-2-3 lineup.
C]Michael Barrett: .266-9-36 ... a carbon copy of the Nationals Brian Schneider
So, the Cubs offense is strong and has relatively few holes, although they do strikeout as a team a little too often. The scary part of the Cubs is their pitching staff now that it's finally healthy:
Greg Maddux: 7-5, 4.87 ... Mark Prior: 5-1, 2,66 ... Kerry Wood: 1-1, 5.29 ... Carl Zambrano: 5-4, 3.93
There isn't a "breather" among them. The Cubs have better pitching, and overall, better hitting than the Nationals, yet they are only 3 games over .500. How? The Nationals haven't learned how to lose yet, and the Cubs haven't learned how to win.
Hopefully, it won't happen this weekend.