My Daughter Got Married (Yeah!)
[August 22nd] - No, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth. My daughter Kristen got married Saturday, which translates into "I didn't have a second to do anything the entire week other than wedding planning."
Don't get me wrong. It was a great wedding and my daughter could not have picked a finer young man to marry. It's just that I got a little behind on my blogging. Sorry.
To compound matters, I'm returning to school [Idaho State University] for my Senior year, so I'll have even less time to blog. But fear not. I'll be here.
Predictions Of Nationals Demise Grossly Exaggerated
All across the Nationals Nation, fans [me included] wrote the team off from any hope of playing in the post-season following the Padres' sweep at RFK two weekends ago. I talked of "blowing up" the team and starting over before Washington's first game against the Astros.
And at that moment, I was right. We had a first baseman who didn't have enough power, a second baseman who limped around the bases, a shortstop and third baseman that couldn't hit, two outfielders who were among the league leaders in strikeouts and too many pitchers who couldn't come through in the clutch. I mean, what's the chance of the team staying in contention until the end of the season, right?
Well, heading into the Astros series, the Nats were only two games out of the wild card hunt. Were the fans of the other contending teams saying that the race was all but over? No. But their team wasn't dead last in offense, whose manager looks upon a single to the outfield as power hitting. Nats fans know that their isn't much help at AAA, and that some of the AA players have potential, but aren't quite ready yet. All of those variables makes Nats fans short on hope.
Now, seven games removed from that awful Padres series, the Nats have gone 5-2 on their road trip and have begun to do those "little" things that helped them reach a season high 20 games over .500 in early July. Can they keep it up? Do they have a chance to reach the post season? I don't know. It depends on which team shows up for the rest of the year.
Phils Fall To Nats Bats, 6-3
[August 16th] - Somewhere, there is a guy who hides deep within the shadows between the real and the unreal. There in his closet is an on/off switch that is plainly marked "Washington Nationals." About a month ago, he turned the switch to the "off" position. Last week, having sensed that the suffering he caused was second only to having a Republican in the White House, he turned the Nats back on.
Hey fella, leave the dang switch alone.
The sweep against the Colorado Rockies was expected if the Washington was to have any hope in catching all those teams suddenly in front of them. But the Phillies are different. They ARE one of the teams who surged past the then struggling Nationals. Further, the Phils sent to the mound 10 game winner Brett Myers.
Wasn't even close.
The Nationals scored 6 runs on 10 hits, thanks to two home runs by Preston Wilson and a solo shots by Brian Schneider and Nick Johnson. All of a sudden, the Nationals are beginning to flex their muscles. Why? I don't think it's because all of a sudden the entire team has found its batting stroke. Rather, the team simply couldn't continue to hit as poorly as they had for the past month. Statistically, the team had to start hitting again. By the end of the season, these long streaks of quality hitting [remember, the team led the league in team batting average as late as mid June when the Nats went to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks] and even longer streaks of poor hitting will all even out and the Nats will end up being a slightly better than average team.
For now, let's enjoy the winning streak while it lasts. Oh, by the way, did anyone notice that Cristian Guzman made another error??
Nationals Beat Up On Rockies 9-2, Sweep Series
John Patterson told reporters after the game that he didn't have his good stuff, that this might have been as "off" as he's been all year. Who cares. Patterson pitched 8 innings, giving up 9 hits but yielding only one run as he won his 7th game of the year and lowered his ERA to 2.44. Offensively, the Nats scored 9 runs on "only" 10 hits. Jose Vidro led the way with 3 hits, raising his average to .284. Jose Guillen and Preston Wilson chipped in with 2 hits a piece. Nick Johnson and Jose Guillen hit back-to-back mammoth home runs to give the Nats a commanding lead.
OK, back to this whole "It happened in Denver" thing. The 19 offensive runs put up on the board were partly due to the mile-high air. I live in Idaho, about the same elevation as Denver. I grew up in D.C., and today, at age 49, I can turn on a fastball and hit it about as far as I could when I was 19, thanks for the thin air. So I understand that some will discount the offensive production the past few days. But I don't buy it. The Nationals weren't as good as they showed the first third of the season, and they weren't as bad as they seemed the past month. That pendulum that pushed Washington out of first place may be finally swinging our way again. No, it's not going to swing far enough to get us back into first place, but the Nationals may end up the season with a very productive first year after all. They're on pace to win 86 games, a good enough number to keep hope alive over the winter for 2006.
If they can continue to play this way against the Phillies, they'll be back in 2nd place and on the Astro's heels for the wild-card lead. Six games into a 13 game road trip, the Nats are 4-2. A very good start, indeed.
Game One In The Bag, Nats Beat Rocks 4-2
The Nationals need to sweep the Rockies this weekend to keep their fledgling hopes for the post season alive. Hey, if you can't beat the Rockies, you don't deserve to be in the post season.
Esteban Loiaza again pitched brilliantly, giving up one earned run and only 5 hits, lowering his ERA to a season low 3.54 while winning his 7th game of the year. With a little bit of run support, he could easily have 12 wins, making him by far the best "value for the money" of all the Jim Bowden signees. Chad Cordero was "lights out" while earning his 38th save in what had to have been his sharpest outing of the season.
Offensively, the 4 runs came on only 7 hits. Jose Vidro and Jose Guillen each got 2 hits apiece in leading the Nats attack. Brandon Watson, after his hot start, has slumped the last two games, and is batting only .154, although that doesn't matter a great deal. Watson has shown a love for the game and is blessed with speed that D.C. fans haven't seen since Ed Stroud.
Cristian Guzman made another error, and while I can't say for sure if it was his aching tooth that caused it, something has to be done to make the position more stable. He's not hitting, and has now made errors in 2 of his last 3 games. Frank Robinson, when asked about his loyalty to the man with the worst batting average for a starting player in more than a decade, no longer says that Guzman is "the guy." If the Nats had someone ready in the minors, anyone, they would be given a trial right now. On the bright side, Ian Desmond, promoted to Potomac a few weeks ago, is batting .268 for the P-Nats and showing some power. He has raised his average a full 20 points since leaving Savannah. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has begun to dominate the Eastern League for the Harrisburg Senators. After his batting average dropped to .217 on July 13th, the former UVA star has gone on a tear, and is now batting .305 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI's.
The Nats have a good chance to win again on Saturday, as Tony Armas Jr. goes against Byung-Hyun Kim. These are the games that the team has to win if they have any chance of making us forget that slide from 20 games over .500 to just 4 over as of last night.
Whatever Happened To Claudio Vargas?
[August 12th] - Do you remember Claudio Vargas? After respectable seasons on both 2003 and 2004 for the Expos, Vargas started the season on the disabled list for Washington. He joined the team in May and started his first game against the Diamondbacks, giving up one earned run in six innings. In his next three games, however, he got hammered, giving up 13 earned runs in just over 5 innings. He was released the day after his last loss against the Reds.
Vargas was picked up by the Diamondbacks, and has pitched effectively since. He has a record of 5-3 with Arizona, with an ERA of 4.18. No question, he's not Randy Johnson reincarnate, but he's certainly pitching good enough to still be part of the Nationals' rotation.
But hey, I would have cut him too.
Bang.Zoom. But Don't Get Cocky
Backed by home runs by Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla and Brad Wilkerson and newcomer Brandon Watson, the Nationals withstood a strong comeback by the Astros and won 6-5. John Patterson wasn't exactly "on" Tuesday night, but he had enough to win his 6th game of the year. And that's fair. After getting all those "no decisions" while pitching well, he deserved a win when he wasn't at his best.
OK. Cristian Guzman. His lack of hitting is really starting to effect his fielding, making him a liability on both offense and defense. Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden have to take a deep breath and cut him loose. On the other hand, Vinny Castilla is beginning to hit again. Was that 3 month swoon due to a balky knee after all?
Great game. Do it again tomorrow and we'll Bang/Zoom all over the place.
The Next Explosion You Hear Won't Be A Terrorist Attack, It Will Be the Nationals Being Blown Up From Within
[August 8th] - If there was any question about changes coming for the Washington Nationals, one had to only watch Sunday's game to see that the team, at least as it currently exist, was about to be blown up.
Manager Frank Robinson started only two of his regulars Sunday, with the subs getting the same 5 hits that the starters averaged the past two games. But it's just not me anymore that is seeing the writing on the wall. After a two hour meeting that was supposed to "clear the air" made matters worse, General Manager Jim Bowden finally acknowledged that this team is going nowhere, saying, "It's getting [to be] that time. You can't watch these games too much longer, so let's try something different. It's like sailing a boat. Sometimes, you think you're going the right way. But if your team's losing, at some point, you might as well tack and go the other way and see if that'll work."
It's time to face the unpleasant facts. The Washington Nationals are more like the team of the second half and not the first. All through those first three months, fans, other teams and the media kept saying, "How are they winning all those games?" I'm not sure how they did it. Perhaps it was the new city, the new uniforms and, for the first time in a decade, they felt like real baseball players playing for a real team. When that "newness" wore off, however, the team reverted back to their talent level and winning percentage from the year before. Bowden took a chance by trading for Guillen and signing Castilla, Guzman and Loiaza. Loiaza was a good move, Guillen is hitting well but murmurs are beginning in the clubhouse about his attitude [just ask Brad Wilkerson] and Guzman and Castilla make up the worst left side of the infield in the major leagues. I too thought they were good moves at the time and, perhaps, they were the only moves that Bowden could have made with a limited payroll and a dirth of talent in the minor leagues.
So now what? If the Nationals sweep the Astros beginning tonight, they'll likely be back in first place for the Wild Card birth. If they are swept, however, they will be likely too far out to make any serious attempt at winning any post season birth. That's what happens when you don't have an offense.
There are no players worthwhile enough to pick off the waiver wire this late in the season. That leaves only the minor leagues, which has only a few players capable of one day playing in the major leagues. I make this guarantee: Ryan Zimmerman will be playing 3rd base for the Nationals THIS YEAR. Ian Desmond is starting to hit at Potomac; he likely will see a call up in September so Bowden and Frank Robinson can gauge how far he's progressed since he turned so many heads during spring training. Matt Cepicky has been sent back down to the minor leagues for the second time this year, which likely means that the 27 year old will not see the major leagues again in a Nationals uniform. Taking his position will be Zephyr Brandon Watson, who was batting .282 with 9 home runs and 59 RBI's in New Orleans. He has a .335 on base percentage and a .425 slugging percent, not exactly star numbers, which shows again the lack of talent at AAA New Orleans.
Big changes are in store for the Nationals. Further, it they end the season the way they're playing now, I doubt that either Frank Robinson or Jim Bowden will be retained. This is hard to imagine saying now, but that magical .500 finish that would have been difficult to swallow just a month ago is now looking questionable. I'm fine with that if they play the kids and see just who can and can't play. But I won't be terribly happy with 75 wins while Vinny and Guzman are still patrolling the infield.
Let's hope that things change beginning tonight. But don't count on it.
Time the Nats Start "Waiving"
[August 7th] - Maybe it's time to finally say the "r" word. Yep, at some point, the Nationals have to consider that "rebuilding" beats the heck out of losing almost every game 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2. The Nationals mustered only five hits yet again as Washington was swept by the first place but below .500 Padres. Over the three games, the Nationals scored 8 runs and collected 15 hits. This is not a slump, it's simply the way it is.
This is tough to say, but it has to. Why should the Nationals continue to play Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman and others every day when the team is losing almost every day now and they are not part of the team's long term future? These starting 8 players are showing that, whether it's their fault or not, they can't hit as unit. So what do we do?
Nick Johnson: Great defensive skills with good on base percent but has shown yet again that he can't stay healthy. The team needs more power at first base, but there is no one in the minors ready to take over. Larry Broadway the Nats best prospect at first, is back at AA Harrisburg trying to overcome an injury. Johnson stays.
Jose Vidro: I thought last year was a fluke. But for the second year in a row, he is showing that he is becoming more fragile as he gets older. He is 31. Is he hurting himself by playing him every day in 2005? If no, then I guess it makes sense to keep him out there. But if he's hurting himself, he's hurting the team's future as well. Play him sparingly, but keep him.
Cristian Guzman: Where do I begin? He is signed for four years, but please, cut him loose at the end of the year and eat the remaining 12 million in salary. Ian Desmond was promoted to Potomac and is steadily gaining confidence, but how much worse could he hit than Guzman?
Vinny Castilla: He's done. Some players get old overnight, and I'm afraid this is what happened to Vinny. Sure, he's been injured, but not bad enough to hit this poorly. Ryan Zimmerman has played well at both Savannah and Harrisburg; now is the time to see what he can do. Start Zimmerman for the rest of the year.
Preston Wilson: He's not going to be here next year, and he's not doing that much this year. Make him the 4th outfielder and give Ryan Church, the team's future in left, back his position. Brad Wilkerson is fine for the rest of the year, but I'd rather trade him for someone with speed who doesn't strike out as much as he does. I love Jose Guillen in right and Brian Schneider behind the plate. Both deserve long term contracts. Take care of them over the winter.
I'd rather finish a few games under .500 while learning what our young kids can do versus finishing around .500 with the "old boys" taking up space on the roster. New ownership will spend money, and will likely sign at least one starting pitcher and two starting fielders. Better to know now who can and can't play in Washington this year.
It's a tough decision, but the way things are going, now is the right time to make the moves.
Nats Offensive Woes Continue, Lose 3-2 To Padres
[August 7th ] If something doesn't change soon, the entire Nationals' starting lineup will end up in Milwaukee. A day after Livan Hernandez threw his glove, jacket and hat into the stands after being lifted from the game by manager Frank Robinson, Ryan Drese threw his own little tirade in the dugout after being removed in the middle of an at bat. "No, that's never happened to me before" said the contrite Drese after the game.
Too bad. Drese has shown that he is the "Mr. Hot or Mr. Cold" of the pitching staff -- either he is Dr. Jeckyl or Mr. Hide. Robinson believed he was about to change into the evil Mr. Hide right there on the mound, and pulled him before he could do any more damage. He pitched well enough to win, but also bad enough to get pulled as he did.
Perhaps the Nationals weren't past the losing streak after all. After winning 3 our of 4 games, they have lost two straight one run games, making it 13 one run game losses in a row. This doesn't concern me a great deal, because after winning those 14 straight one run games, things had to even out. So much of the Nationals "first half" was not natural for a baseball team. Not able to score any runs, with no offensive production whatsoever from 3 of the 8 field positions, the Nationals nonetheless reached a season high 20 games over .500. Although I reveled in their success, I knew it was just a matter of time before a correction occurred -- it just had to happen.
The rest of the season is wholly dependent on how this team reacts to the difficult times they've faced recently. As long as pitchers are throwing tantrums, the Nationals will have a difficult time pulling out of this steep dive they are in. Sure, it's nice that Vinny Castilla finally hit another home run. And sure, it's great that Cristian Guzman is beginning to hit again. But for the second game in a row, the Nationals got 5 hits as a team. Over 18 innings, they have gotten 10 hits and given up 27, yet only lost by two combined runs. If the Nationals had even an "average" offense, there is no doubt in my mind that the team would still be in first place. But with this kind of continued offensive production, and with no possibility of change in sight, they are going to continue to have difficulty winning games.
And it's not going to get any easier, as Padres ace Jake Peavy goes against Esteban Loiaza this afternoon. Cross your fingers, and let Frank know if you can hit a curve ball -- he may give you a call... "Now batting, from Section 405, row 11, seat 10, ...."
How Can Nats Lose To Team Wearing Tan Pajamas?
Wait a minute, you say. The Nats scored 5 runs, one of their better performances in some time. How could they have had another down offensive night and score 5 runs? Luck.
The Padres scored 6 runs on 16 hits. The Nationals scored 5 runs on 5 hits. Five hits. When you usually get only 5 hits, you're shut out. Five hits and eleven strikeouts.
Livan Hernandez pitched poorly, but still left the game with a chance to win. As he walked in the dugout, he threw his hat, his jacket and his glove into the stands. But not to worry, he's not going to be traded to the Brewers too. Hernandez simply referred to his last three throws of the night as "souvenirs" for the fans. And no, he said, he wasn't mad a manager Frank Robinson.
Chad Cordero gave up two hits and a run to take the loss. Gary Majewski gave up the tying run in the 8th inning.
This is one of "those" games when you lose and feel "OK" about it. It was just one of those things. Our ace couldn't pitch. Our players couldn't hit. Our fielders couldn't field. It happens. The question is, how will they respond tomorrow? To reach 90 wins, they can lose games like this; they just have to come back and win games like tomorrow.
We'll see. Go Nats.
Nationals Again Becoming "The Little Engine That Could" Again
[August 4th] - Can someone explain to me what happened Wednesday night? That John Patterson pitched "lights out" again wasn't the amazing part. He's done that his last six starts, amassing a microscopic 0.90 during that span. No, it was the offensive production, particularly the grand slam by Brad Wilkerson that finally gave the Nationals a cushion large enough to win with ease.
John Patterson, who pitched only the second Nationals complete game of the season, allowed only 4 singles in 9 innings, walking no one and striking out 13. It was perhaps the most dominating game that any Nationals pitcher has thrown this year. His ERA is now down to 2.42, about as good as it gets for a starting pitcher these days. Patterson is one of the few Nationals that deserve a long term contract when the season is done.
Crisitian Guzman has put together a nice little batting streak, raising his average from .181 to .193. He did this one other time this year, however, and we should be very wary before assuming that he's finally, finally [finally] out of his season long slump. Nick Johnson got 3 hits and Preston Wilson 2; Wilson has his batting average almost back up to where it was when he joined the Nationals last month.
The Nationals have now won 3 out of 4 and have begun the long and arduous climb back up the standings. Remember, however, this was the first game where the offense produced anything at all, so let's not assume that the Braves need to begin watching their backs. But they're winning again, and all that "finding ways to lose" part of it seems to have subsided. I guess if you have to hit a difficult period in a long baseball season, the middle is the best place for it. Fans are excited in the beginning, and again in the end. The middle is soon forgotten.
Strong Performance By Armas
[August 3rd] - I think it's safe to say that the Washington Nationals are finally out of that giant pothole that enveloped them for the better part of a month. No, theyr'e not that 19 games over .500 team either, and I doubt that, this year anyway, they'll approach those kind of numbers again. But they do have the look of a team that's going to play at least .500 the rest of the season, providing as many good nights as bad.
And that's OK.
The end of the looooooooong slide seems to have come at about the same time that Nick Johnson returned to the D.C. lineup. Johnson homered for the second time since returning from the disabled list and helped power the Nats to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, evening the series at one game a piece. Although Tony Armas pitched only 5 innings, they were 5 quality innings in gaining his 6th win of the season. In each outing, the soon to be free agent seems more comfortable on the mound, and more effective in the box score. His once embarrassing ERA is now down to a [almost] respectable 4.64. If Armas can continue his game by game improvement, he gives Washington 2 number 1 starters and 4 quality arms in the rotation. Chad Cordero earned his 36th save of the season, by far the leader in both leagues.
Preston Wilson, who like Junior Spivey came to Washington and saw his offensive numbers dip, went 2-4 with a long home run to center field, his 3rd as a member of the Nationals. However, other than Wilson, no one else in the starting lineup got more than one hit. Brad Wilkerson continues to slide back into numbers similar to last season, but with much less power. His forearm is to blame for that, however. Cristian Guzman got another hit and is now inching closer to the .190 mark.
More amazing than the Nationals July swoon on the field is the continued support by the fans of Washington. For the second straight night, the Nationals drew more than 36,000 for a mid week game, games that they were drawing 25,000 for just a month ago. It was easy for Washingtonians to climb onto the bandwagon when things were going good, but I was concerned as to their support when things turned for the worse. I shouldn't have been worried.
Without any real offensive production, the best the team can hope for is a win, a loss, and win. That said, 90 wins is still a real possibility, especially if Wilkerson, Vidro and Castilla begin to hit again.
Let's see if they do.
Things Back To Normal, Nats Lose
[August 2nd] - The Washington Nationals scored 4 runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers Tuesday, a veritable offensive barrage, but it wasn't enough as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Nats 5-4. Washington scored 2 runs in the 9th to make it interesting, but in the end, the lack of a consistent offense doomed the team yet again.
The team's performance is taking us to the point where we again have to start looking for positives in an overtly negative situation: Jose Vidro got three hits and looked more like the former Expo all-star and less like the injured, sub-par 2nd baseman he's been this year ... Brian Schneider got two more hits and raised his average to .284, third highest on the team ... Cristian Guzman got another hit, a sign that he does have a pulse.
On the negative side [don't worry, I'll keep it short], I'm beginning to worry about Ryan Church. Preston Wilson isn't hitting very much and Church is playing like a guy who either has lost his confidence or his mad at the situation, both understandable feelings.
I'd love to see Ryan Zimmerman be given a chance in September to see how close he is to playing at the major league level. After seeing his batting average drop to a season low .217 in early July, the UVa. alum is now batting .296 and playing a great all-around third base. Jim Bowden said he's ready defensively; how much worse could he hit than injured and aged Vinny Castilla? Now is the right time to test all the spare parts and see what the team needs to be added for next year.
Hang on, it's going to be a rough ride for a while longer.