Waiting For The Other Shoe To Drop
Chad Cordero threw a low fast ball to Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit who lofted a high fly ball to Jose Guillen near the foul line in right field. Catch made. Game Over. As the players gathered on the infield grass to begin their congratulatory hand-slaps, I glanced at the NL East standings. The Nationals, the team that every reputable sports magazine had in the cellar, was now perched high atop the division with a 47-31 record, a full four games in front of the still surging Atlanta Braves. They have the 3rd best record in baseball, and just swept the Pirates with two of their best players, Ryan Church & Nick Johnson, unable to play due to injuries.
The Nationals have two all-star caliber players, Chad Cordero and Livan Hernandez. The rest of the team are various levels of "good."
And I'm depressed as heck. Why? I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If the Nationals were in fourth place right now, 37-41 or so, we'd be blogging our little hearts out, saying how great the team was doing, pointing to the young talent on the team and predicting that with another bat and a pitcher or two [provided by the new owners check book], the team could actually compete for a wildcard spot in 2006. The team could finish 79-83 and we'd all be out celebrating at our favorite night-spot.
How can we do that now? When you have the 3rd best record out of 32 teams, there is only one way to go, and that is down. Sooner or later, a team that gives up more runs than it scores has to begin to lose some games. At some point, all the injuries will take their toll, and the Nationals will hit a tailspin that they won't recover from. Cordero can't keep doing what he's doing. Man, there are so many chances to fail.
I'm just waiting for that other shoe to drop. I mean, it has to happen sooner or later, doesn't it? Finally, the talking heads on ESPN, the folks at Sporting News radio, the sports geeks at Fox are all finally saying, "Hey, the Nationals are for real. They will be in this thing until the very end." I don't care about them, though. I listen to the guys on the XM morning show, Buck Martinez and Larry Bowa. Both of them say that the Nats are a contender. I don't know, I just don't. I'm ready for the team to implode, but until they do, I'm going to enjoy every freaking second of this most amazing summer.
Now, on to the game.
The Nats won this afternoon 7-5, sweeping the series from the Pirates and finishing this short homestand 5-1. This was not the prototypical Nats game. Washington started off quickly, took a large lead, hit two homers, and did all this for Esteban Loiaza, the pitcher with the lowest run support of any starter in either league. The Pirates came back, though, and made those last few innings very uneasy for Nats fans. Chad Cordero, the "Chief," came in and quickly found himself with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no one out. However, as he is want to do, he got those last three outs under trying circumstances without allowing a run to score, earning his 28th save and lowering his ERA to 0.87.
The Nationals mustered only 8 hits against the Pirates, but two of them were home runs. I have to apologize to Brian Schneider. I expected so much from him based on his numbers from last year. I thought a .265-13-60 kind of season was not impossible. But last month, Schneider was hitting .210 with no power numbers to speak of. Now, he's on track to hit .261-13-50. Frank Robinson warned me, but I didn't listen: "Brian Schneider is the streakiest hitter on the team. He'll go 'oh-for-May' but then come back and carry the team for a month. That's exactly what is happening. Vinny Castilla, who has been just a little less than dead the last month, went 2-4 with a home run and 3 RBI's, raising his average back up to .260.
Nats Notes: Junior Spivey's 10 game hitting streak came to an end this afternoon ... Cristian Guzman hurt himself running to first and was taken out of the game [no word as to his condition] ... Ryan Church's shoulders haven't gotten any better and was today placed on the disabled list ... Wil Cordero got his second hit of the year and raised his average to .057.
Lloyd McClendon Should Have Listened To Himself
A week ago, the Washington Nationals swept into PNC Park in Pittsburgh and took 2 out of 3 games to take the series. It wasn't difficult to figure out how the Nationals did it. It was Jose Guillen. In the three games, the Washington right fielder went 8 for 14 with 6 homers and 6 RBI's. Following the final game, Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said that his team should never have allowed Jose Guillen to beat the Pirates. "He played for us, he began here," said McClendon, adding "if anyone knows his strengths and weaknesses, it's us. And we should never have allowed him to beat us."
The Pirates kept an injured Guillen in check Tuesday, holding him to a single in 3 at bats. McClendon reminded his pitchers not to let Guillen beat them. They tried.
With a runner on first and two out, McClendon walked Jose Guillen. That worked. With the bases loaded, Guillen was walked again. That didn't work quite so well. In the 8th inning, Carlos Baerga singled and Brad Wilkerson walked, bringing Jose Guillen to the plate. Jose juiced a Solomon Torres pitch deep but foul. McClendon came out to the mound and reminded the veteran pitcher than the Pirates weren't going to get beat by Jose Guillen again. Before McClendon could get comfortable on the bench, Guillen smoked a line drive towards third baseman Rob Mackowiak that bounced off his glove and rolled into foul territory, scoring Baerga from second base, giving the Nats the lead 3-2. Chad Cordero came in the 9th and recorded his 27th save, lowering his ERA to 0.89, which seems more a misprint than an earned run average.
It was a tough evening for me. I was watching the Braves - Marlins game on tv, and the Marlins kept getting runners in scoring position all night but couldn't score. I was listening to the Nats on radio, and Washington kept allowing Pirate runners to get into scoring position all night. A loss here and a win there, and the Nationals divisional lead would be down to just 1.5 games. Luckily, the Marlins withstood another Andruw Jones home run, and Jose Guillen befuddled Lloyd McClendon yet again, and this morning finds the Washington Nationals with a 3.5 game lead over the 2nd place Braves once again.
John Patterson's fate should have been much better. He had a runner on 3rd with two out, and two strikes on the batter when the rains came. Almost two hours later, Patterson returned to the mound, and promptly grooved a pitch to Rob Mackowiak who hit another tape measure homer against Patterson. Patterson gave up two runs in 5 innings and saw his ERA go up just a tinch, to 3.17.
Nationals "Ups & Downs": Junior Spivey, UP. Spivey has raised his average from .236 to .248 since he joined the Nationals, and is providing a reliable bat in the #2 hole in the lineup. He now has a 10 game hit streak. News that Vidro's return has been pushed back to the original target date of the all-star game isn't as scary with Junior jiving around second base. Brad Wilkerson, DOWN. Wilkerson went 0-2 and saw his average drop below .270 for the first time this year, to .269. Don't expect it to be much higher than that by season's end. Cristian Guzman, UP. After going 0-17 after going 6-18, Guzman got two hits tonight and looked like a professional baseball player.
Nats Notes: Another win today and the Nationals will have posted a 20-6 record in the month of June, the White Sox are 1.5 games behind Washington for best record for the month ... June's winning percentage is the highest of any month in the Expos/Nationals 37 year history ... Wednesday night's win guaranteed a 9th straight series win at RFK ... Chad Cordero has now converted 24 saves in a row ... The Nats are a season high 15 games over .500, and haven't been 16 games ove .500 since mid 1994 ... 29 of the Nationals 46 wins are the "come from behind" variety ... The Nationals are 26-14 since aquiring Marlon Byrd and 12-5 since trading for Junior Spivey.
It's Dave Williams vs. John Patterson Tonight At RFK
Age: 26 -- Throws: Left -- Drafted in the 17th round of the amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. -- First year in the majors: 2001
Williams has a fastball that, with the wind at his back, may reach 90 mph. However, his killer change-up makes it seem like it's 10 mph faster than is really is. He also has a good curveball, and great command of all three of his pitches. Williams has problems with right handed hitters, walking them in a far greater percentage than lefties. They hit him much harder than lefties as well. His mind seems to stroll when he's on the mound, and he tends to give up a higher percentage of runners in scoring position than a major league pitcher should.
Williams' Last four games: Innings Pitched: 20 -- Hits: 26 -- Runs: 12 -- Walks: 9 -- Strikeouts: 14 -- ERA:4.95
John Patterson's last for games: Innings Pitched: 24 -- Hits: 28 -- Runs: 10 -- Walks: 7 -- Strikeouts: 22 -- ERA:3.75
John Patterson has pitched well, and Williams has pitched 'ok,' with some fine games and some lousy ones in the past few weeks. Williams has given up 35 base runners in 20 innings, while Patterson has given up 35 baser unners in 24 innings. Patterson, then, has gotten himself out of more jams than Williams has.
NATS NOTES: The Nationals continue to sport the best home winning percentage in the major leagues, and have now 8 consecutive series in the friendly confines of RFK Stadium ... on the road, the Nationals have one more games than St. Louis, Arizona and Chicago ... The Nationals have the best record for the month of June in major league baseball with an 18-6 record, the Angles are 2nd and the White Sox 3rd ... The Nationals lead the majors in one-run victories with 19, San Diego is 2nd ... Chad Cordero has sent the franchise record for most saves before the all-star break with 26 ... Cordero has also set the all-time record for most saves in a month  and is two shy of the major league record of 15 ... Beginning tomorrow, 10 of the Nationals next 15 games will be day games [they have a record of 14-10 in day games] ... In the last 17 games at home, Nationals starting pitchers have a 1.73 ERA [wow!] ... a Nats win tonight will give them a record of 15 games over .500 -- it has been 9 years since the franchise has been those many games over .500 .
Fogg Rolls In To RFK, Nats Pirate Win From Pittsburgh
[June 28th] - It seems strange considering that Tuesday's game was only the 76th of the season, but it was a "must win" for the Nationals. After a loss to the Blue Jays Sunday afternoon, Washington had to prove they could quickly and effortlessly get back on the winning track. Even though the team has gone 8-5 during its last 13 games, it has seen its lead shrink from 5 games ahead of the Phillies to 2.5 games ahead of the streaking Braves, who whacked Dontrelle Willis and the Florida Marlins for yet another win tonight. A Nationals loss and the Braves would have been only 1.5 games behind the Nationals, and Atlanta would have begun to slowly circle the Nationals, sniffing for that first whiff of blood in the water. Not tonight, boys.
Games: 3 ... Innings:19 ... Hits:15 ... Runs:6 ... Walks:6 ... Strikeouts:10 ... ERA:2.84
Ryan Drese has had one bad outing and two outstanding ones. I'd say that averages out to a very good job overall. How's he doing compared to the Brewers' Tomo Ohka?
Games: 3 ... Innings:20 ... Hits:25 ... Runs:9 ... Walks:1 ... Strikeouts:14 ... ERA:4.05
In a convoluted way, the Nationals traded Ryan Drese for Tomo Ohka and got Junior Spivey for nothing. Drese has outpitched Ohka thus far and Spivey has given the Nationals a much needed professional second baseman to play until Vidro returns.
Pirate Josh Fogg pitched well too, giving up 2 runs over 6 innings, allowing 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 4. He was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, and kept it until the 4th inning, when he hit Jose Guillen and walked Vinny Castilla. Marlon Byrd tried to bunt the runners along, but popped the ball up along the 3rd base line. It came to rest by the feet of Josh Fogg, who tried to force Guillen at third. Oops. The ball bounced into short left field and Guillen scurried home with the Nationals first run. Moments later, Wil Cordero made an out, which isn't a surprise, but it was a productive one as his sacrifice fly scored Vinny Castilla. That ended up being the final score of the game, 2-1 Nationals.
NATS NOTES: Ryan Church and Nick Johnson were unable to play Tuesday night, but Jose Guillen, who was supposed to be out 3-7 games with a sore shoulder, played and went 1-3 ...note to rest of team: Be more like Guillen ... Cristian Guzman went 0-3 and for the umpteenth time this year slipped below the Mendoza line ... Vinny Castilla went 0-3 and continued to show signs of his "tired bat" as described by manager Frank Robinson ... Chad Cordero saved his league leading 26th game and lowered is ERA to 0.92
Here Come The Braves!
[June 28th] - Don't look now, but objects in your rear view mirror are closer than they appear. After a week of having a comfortable lead in the National League Eastern division, Washington has found themselves sliding from 5 games up on the Phillies to 2.5 games ahead of the surging Atlanta Braves. Now, don't get me wrong; it's not the Nationals' fault. They have won three of their last four series, going 7-5 during that span. Rather, It's the Braves, who it looks like they are beginning their annual "30-10" spurt that usually ends with them 6 games in the lead. That the Braves are doing it is not unusual. That the Braves are doing it with players most baseball fans have never head of is.
Ranger Langerhans. Kelly Johnson. Pete Orr. Wilson Benemit. Jorge Sosa. Kyle Davies. Who are these guys? Using a rag-tag team consisting of minor leaguers and major league retreads, the Braves are beating everybody right now, and beating them soundly at that. Langerhans, if given 500 at bats, would end the year at .250-23-86. Kelly Johnson would come close to those numbers as well. Wilson Benemit is hitting .327 filling in for Chipper Jones. And the scary part is that all of those veteran Braves players will start coming off the disabled list very soon. The Braves will then have two starters at several positions and a whole slew of quality starting pitchers to throw at their opponents.
So, is there any good news coming from Atlanta? Yes. Braves GM John Scherholtz has made it clear that there is not a single dollar to spend on acquiring new players, while the Nationals can likely add $5-7 million in payroll for the right player or players.
This is will be interesting to watch. Can the Nationals youthful demeanor withstand the charging Braves? Will the Braves have enough in them to catch, and then pass the Nationals? As the way the Nats team stands today, I'd have to say that the Braves could very well push pass them at some point. But remember, we start getting our disabled list entourage back very soon. And if Bowden trades for pitching, one great pitcher, two good pitchers, then the Nats will be in the hunt until the final week.
Pennant race in Washington. Amazing.
George Soros & The Nationals: It's Not Just Me
[June 27th] - A few weeks ago, George Soros announced that he would be part of a financial group seeking to purchase the Washington Nationals from Major League Baseball. I angrily wrote that if Soros was in any way connected with the Nats, I would again become a Braves fan. I said that it wasn't a "Republican vs Democrat" thing. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, even John Kerry could buy this team and I would support them as owners. It's not that he's a liberal, it's how he's a liberal, using groups such as Moveon.org to act in ways that is not in the best interests of this country. I received several replies on my sight, one connecting conservatives to Nazism.
Well folks, it not just me. Read the following excerpt from a national internet site regarding George Soros as a prospective owner of Washington's baseball team. It should be noted that while this story is a Republican response to Soros, several Democrats have quietly suggested that perhaps Mr. Soros is a little to much of a lightning rod for a politically benign entity such as a baseball team.
Republicans Suggest Backlash Against Baseball If Soros Group Wins Bid To Buy Nationals [Mon Jun 27 2005 09:51:22 ET]
"Despite the Washington Nationals' successful start to the season, to some Capitol Hill Republicans there is a dark cloud on the Nats' horizon: the potential that their newly adopted home team could be purchased by billionaire financier George Soros! Soros has joined an ownership bid being led by entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky that is angling to take over the Nats, who are currently owned by Major League Baseball. ROLL CALL reports: Soros pumped more than $20 million in the last cycle into groups seeking to unseat President Bush and elect Democrats and relates that the very prospect that Soros could have a stake in the team is enough to irritate Congressional Republicans. "I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes," said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), who recently convened high-profile steroid hearings.Davis said that if a Soros sale went through, "I don't think it's the Nats that get hurt. I think it's Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions' from anti-trust laws. Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that covers the District of Columbia budget, said if Soros buys the team and seeks public funding for a new stadium or anything else, the GOP attitude would be, "Let him pay for it."
I'm not suggesting that I like the innuendo of hostilities coming form Republican leaders. But it is expected. Soros has maintained a "trash and burn" political style which has polarized both sides of the spectrum. The folks at Major League Baseball needs to be very careful when choosing the new owner for the first place Nationals.
************************************************************************************* Monday evening update: I received a reply on this story from reader "Scott," who believed that my concerns about George Soros and his possible ownership of the Nationals were "absurd" and Scott informed that he will never read my blog again.
Thank you Scott; you proved my point. Obviously, Scott has been a regular reader of my blog, but once my site became something he no longer wanted to support, he changed allegiances and will get his information somewhere else. I, on the other hand, said that if the Nationals turn into something that I don't like, I would stop supporting them. Scott is angry at my "absurd" position, yet he did to me exactly what I threatened to do to a Soros led Nationals team. All of us have a choice in the marketplace, whether is it the marketplace of ideas or blogs or baseball teams. It would be wrong of me to support a team whose owner I so disagree with, just as Scott made that choice regarding me. Thanks Scott. We're really both on the same page here. We'll miss you.
Win Now Or Win Later - - Can The Nats Do Both?
[June 27th] - It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Jim Bowden added Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman in hopes that their veteran leadership and still adequate skills would keep the Nationals at or near .500 for the next couple of years, or at least until the team opened its new park sometime in early 2008. By then, Bowden hoped, the new owner's pocketbook would have purchased enough talent to contend for the division title. Oops.
The Nationals are on track to win 94 games and win the National League Eastern division this year. They've done it with a combination of talent, luck, and smoke-and-mirrors. While we could find the Nats in the cellar come September, they are just as likely to be in first, second or third place, fighting for at the least the wild card. All of Washington [and me out here in Pocatello Idaho] is enjoying its first pennant race since the Roosevelt Administration. You can't have lunch at work, or enjoy a movie at Tysons Corners, without hearing friends and neighbors talking about what is turning out to be the most amazing summer in Washington since Watergate. But is it the best thing for the Nationals? By doing all they can to win NOW, is Frank Robinson and Jim Bowden in someway short changing the future of the team?
Several of the Washington Nationals are locks to be part of the team when the new stadium and bigger payroll kick in three years from now and others could be:
1B]Nick Johnson [age in 2008: 30] Expected production: .300-25-100
It is very likely that one of the first things Jim Bowden or his replacement will do when the new owner takes over is to sign Nick Johnson to a long term contract. Johnson is a really really really good player, but not a great one, but that suits the Nationals just fine. While he doesn't have the power numbers of a prototypical first baseman, his on base percentage [.443] and slugging [.512] add an additional dimension to his play not normally found at first. I'd guess that the new park will be along the lines of RFK [read: spacious] so his high on base percent and outstanding fielding ability makes him the Nationals' first baseman for some time to come. Minor league talent: Larry Broadway. Although Broadway has been hurt for much of the season, he is expected to be a solid major leaguer with numbers similar to Lyle Overbay of the Brewers. Excellent Trade fodder.
2B]Jose Vidro [age in 2008:34] Expected Production: .280-15-80
Jose Vidro has shown that he is getting fragile as he ages. But don't think that he's been "Cal Ripken" like during his career. Since he became a starter in 1999, he has missed 171 games, or almost 15% of the team's games due to injury. As he gets older, we have to consider that injuries will continue to hamper his playing time at second base. Junior Spivey is a solid second baseman and has produced well in a starting roll. Having both of them to play second would be ideal, but will Spivey accept such a roll? Spivey will be 33 in 2008. Minor league talent: Brendan Harris. Harris has already shown that he can hit major league pitching. He's good at second base, but not great. He has the ability to start for the Nationals. He will be 28 when the new park opens.
LF]Ryan Church [age in 2008:30] Expected production: .280-25-85
Church is another of the young Nationals that need to be signed to a long term contract as soon as possible. He has speed, power and plays well in the outfield. Church's on base percent of .381 and slugging percent of .581 are great. Church HAS to be part of this club if it's going to succeed in the second half of the decade.
CF]Brad Wilkerson [age in 2008:31] Expected Production: .260-23-75
Although most Nationals fans love Wilkerson, I think he is more of a hindrance than a help. Regardless of his .370 on base percent and good power, Wilkerson strikes out 30% of the time he comes to the plate, and I don't care what Bill James says, a strikeout IS WORSE than other types of outs. I'd prefer to trade Wilkerson for a real leadoff hitter [someone in the Juan Pierre mold]. Of course he would still be a good addition to the Nationals outfield in 2008
RF]Jose Guillen [age in 2008:31] Expected Production: .285-30-100
Let's face it, he hasn't transformed himself into "Mr. Likeable" overnight. Stories still surface that he can be surely and downright unfriendly in the clubhouse. Teammates are learning when and when not to engage him in conversation. Still, as long as he doesn't kill anybody, I want him in right field for many years, and Guillen has said the same thing. Minor league talent: Matt Cepicky. Cepicky has hit well everywhere he's played, averaging 15 homers and 70 or so rbi's. He's not a great fielder and has holes in his swing, but can play everyday in the majors and produce "acceptable" numbers.
C]Brian Schneider [age in 2008:32] Expected Production: .260-12-50
Schneider continues to be one of the best defensive catchers in the major leagues, and provides enough offensive pop to make any team he plays for better. However, 32 years old for a catcher is "getting up in years," and the Nationals will need to have someone in the wings waiting to start taking some of the load. Minor league talent: None to speak of.
So, with the exception of shortstop and 3rd base, the Nationals could conceivably [but likely wouldn't] still have 6 offensive starters in 2008 that they use today. There will be some trades and free agent signings, but the core of the team will still be productive in three years.
So what do we do with third base and shortstop?
There is ZERO chance that either Vinny Castilla or Cristian Guzman will make the trek from RFK over to the new ballpark, contracts be damned. So is it better to leave them where they are now, take up space, hope they get a timely hit or two and perhaps lead the Nationals to a wild card or division title, or do the Nats at some point make the decision to go with their younger players in preparation for the future?
Ryan Zimmerman, the number one draft pick in the amateur draft, is 11-21 with 2 homers in his young career. Certainly, he is making the transition quickly and effectively. What happens come September when the Nationals are still hovering around the top of the division, and Vinny is still slipping in all offensive categories, hitting only pitcher's mistakes? Wouldn't it make sense to let the kid take over, get 30 games under his belt and see if he's ready to take over next year? I'm not talking about overwhelming him; only if he's ready. I'd certainly rather have Zimmerman as a two year veteran in 2008 instead of an untried rookie. A move like this might hurt our chances this year, but would strengthen the team's foundation for 2008.
At some point, Cristian Guzman's defense will not outweigh his poor performance at the plate. Sure, he may save 20 runs the rest of the year with his glove, but he might miss driving in 30 that another shortstop wouldn't. Should the Nats put Spivey at short and see what happens? Should Brendan Harris be given a chance? Again, these moves might cause short-term harm, but would certainly strengthen the team long-term.
My vote is to do what it takes to lay the proper foundation for the coming years. Sure, it'd be fun to win the division and see the team in the playoffs, but I'd much rather end the season with 85 or 90 wins and find out who can and cannot play short and third. The new owner could then sit down with Jim Bowden [or his replacement] and make reasoned decisions as to who to sign, demote, release, trade or outright to the minors. Yes, doing this might result in the Nationals not making the post-season, but the upside is far greater and more advantageous for the team.
But, I'm just one fan in Pocatello Idaho, and I doubt seriously that Frank Robinson or Jim Bowden will listen to me.
But they should.
Stupid Rotten Nationals Can't Even Sweep A Crappy Canadian Team
The Washington Nationals depressed the heck out of me this afternoon as they lost to the Blue Jays 9-5. Ah, sure, they came back from a 5-2 deficit and tied the game on A Vinny "Tired Bat" Castilla double. Who cares? They lost. The Braves won, and now the Nationals are only 3 games ahead of Atlanta in the National League East pennant chase.
And they lost to a Canadian team!
Seriously, one of the problems of having been in first place for such a long time, and for having won so many games in a row at home, is that we as fans have gotten used to wins and find losing to smelly, stinky little minor league teams from a 3rd world country depressing!
Oops. Sorry. See, it even happens to me. I guess the boys can't be expected to win every game, can they? I think we should all take time to reflect, light candles and pray to whatever God or deity that makes us feel better. We'll all feel better tomorrow.
I mean, they're off and can't lose again. :)
Hey, they won 2 out of 3 and continue there unbelievable first place run. Who cares about the loss. All the Nationals have to do is win each series as they come along. Expect one loss, hope for two wins. Keep that up and it's pennant time in the Nation's Capitol.
Nationals Making Winning Almost Ho-Hum, Beat Blue Jays 5-2
It was all over the moment Livan Hernandez took to the mound Saturday night against the Blue Jays. Livan simply doesn't lose anymore, and with just a little bit of help from his "friends," he proved that you can be a big winner in the major leagues using guile rather than "stuff."
The Nationals have created a formula for winning: Strong pitching, timely hitting and outstanding defense. Throw in a "tinch" of teamwork, and *presto,* wins just flow off the assembly line.
The Nationals have been doing a much better job of plating runs in the first inning. A Brad Wilkerson walk and a Junior Spivey double put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Nick Johnson and Marlon Byrd singled, giving the Nats a 2-0 lead. A Marlon Byrd groundout in the 3rd and a Vinny Castilla single plated another run to give the Nationals a 4-0 lead. Greg Zaun tried to throw out a stealing Marlon Byrd at 2nd, but his throw scooted into centerfield, allowing Nick Johnson to score from 3rd. From that point, the Nats were on auto-pilot.
Hernandez pitched 7 innings, allowing 2 runs and 7 hits. As usual, he gave the Blue Jays many chances to score, and as usual, he thwarted them almost every time. Toronto chased him in the 8th when they got their 2 runs with a Greg Zaun single and an Alex Rios groundout. Luis Ayala slowed the threat and Chad Cordero came in the 8th and shut the Blue Jays down. He pitched a 1-2-3 9th to mark his 25th save, lowering his ERA to 0.94.
Marlon Byrd made another outstanding catch in the outfield, duplicating the one he made to end the game Friday night. He also threw out Greg Zaun at second base, ending a Blue Jay threat. Livan provided the pitching. Marlon Byrd provided the offense and defense [with a little help from his friends] and the entire team chipped in to secure yet another win for the Nationals.
I can't tell you how the Nats keep doing this. They're not dazzling anybody. They're playing just a little better than the opposition, but they're doing it each and every night they play. Across the baseball world, really smart people keep saying, "They look good now, but sooner or later they're going to come back to Earth." They've been saying that since the beginning of May.
The Nats go for a sweep tomorrow afternoon.
Tonight's Game Might Be Closer Than You Think
[June 25th] Tonight, Blue Jay southpaw Ted Lilly goes against Nationals ace Livan Hernandez in the second game of their inter-league series at RFK Memorial Stadium. Hernandez is 10-2 with an ERA of 3.34. Lilly is 5-7 with a 6.08.
Now, before you go running off to add the 44th win to the Nationals 2005 record, remember this: since Lilly beat the Nationals May 20th, he has lowered his ERA more than 2 runs per game. In his last two starts, he has pitched 14 innings, giving up 7 hits and 2 runs, striking out 16 and walking 5. He beat the Cardinals and Orioles his last two outings, not exactly last place teams. Hopefully, he'll return to his terrible self in time for tonight's game.
Be Brave Nats Fans, But Here Comes Atlanta, and Boy Are They Mad
. [June 25th] For the past several weeks, as the Washington Nationals continued to not only hold but expand its first place lead in the National League East, all eyes have been looking forward, trying to see what opponents, what injuries, what problems lay ahead for a team never used to being if first place. Message to the Nationals: It's time to start looking back. In the words of Satchel Paige, "someone might be gaining on you."
The Philadelphia Phillies kept pace with the Nationals during their home winning streak 10 days ago, but their fell flat on their last road trip and are now 4.5 games behind the still surging Nats. They recently lost their most consistent pitcher, Randy Wolf, to Tommy John surgery that will sideline him for the better parts of the next two season. The Florida Marlins, just a year removed from their championship, are suffering from bat malaise, especially Juan Pierre and Mike Lowell. The clubhouse atmosphere is toxic and Al Leiter's position in the rotation is very very iffy. The Marlins are 5.5 games out. The New York Mets spent a lot of money, but put the cash into only 2 players. While Pedro Martinez is "light's out," Carlos Beltran, to this point in the season at least, is just an above average player. The rest of the pitching staff and most of the offensive lineup is iffy. They are 7 games out of first. Did I forget to mention anyone?
Going into the 2005 season, the whispers that "this was the year that the Braves would finally lose their dominance" in the NL East were more audible, and two weeks ago, they were darn near shouts of joy throughout the eastern NL cities. Anyone who thinks the Nationals were the team most decimated by injuries need only glance southward along I-95. The Braves have more stars on the disabled list than the Nationals have stars. Atlanta's three best starting pitchers, Mike Hampton, Justin Thompson and Tim Hudson, all former all-stars, sit on the DL bench, waiting for their chance to play again. Chipper Jones, "Mr. Brave," is on the DL with a recurring foot injury. Backup catcher Eddie Perez is also disabled. So what the Braves DL lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Two weeks ago, the Braves were so bereft of breathing veteran players that they started seven  rookies in one game. Do the math: that means that only 2 players that night were playing in the bigs last year. Yet through all of this, even to the point of the team making the players wear "Hi, my name is..." tags, the Braves are gaining on the Nationals. Ten days ago, the Braves were 5 games behind the division leading Nationals. Today, with no starting rotation to speak of, they've gained a full game, even though the Nats have gone 6-4 during that time.
This is the point in the season where the Braves kick it into a gear that no other team has and z-o-o-m-s past everyone else into first place. The question must be asked, then: Can they do it again? Are the Nationals for real or will they simply be used as traction fodder for the oversized tires of the Big Braves Machine? Let's take a look.
1B]Adam LaRoche [projected 2005 stats] .254-19-98
LaRoche has improved from his rookie year in 2004, and is providing additional "sock" that was missing from 1st base last season. However, his OBP is only .313 and his SLG is .440, on the low edge of "ok" for a first baseman. * * IMPROVEMENT OVER 2004 * *
2B]Marcus Giles [projected 2005 stats] .284-14-49
Giles is becoming very consistent, and his 2005 numbers will be about where his 2004 stats were, although his OBP and SLG are somewhat lower. * * SAME AS LAST YEAR * *
SS]Rafael Furcal [projected 2005 stats] .222-11-55
Oh, where have you gone, Rafael? He's simply not the same player that he was last year. How bad is it? His OBP is .280 and his SLG is .344, both horrible numbers for a veteran like Furcal. His fielding hasn't been as sharp either. * * NOT AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR * *
3B]Chipper Jones [projected 2005 stats] .282-20-74
These down numbers are injury related for sure, but this is the 2nd down year in a row for Chipper. His OBP and SLG are fine, but Chipper needs to produce taters for the Braves to zoom past the competition this year. * * NOT AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR * *
LF]Kelly Johnson [projected 2005 stats] .243-16-73
Johnson has come out of nowhere and begun to produce some good power numbers. His OBP is .369, outstanding for a rookie. Each game, he gets better and more comfortable at the plate. While Johnson isn't as good as the tandem of Charles Johnson and Eli Marrero of 2004, by the end of the season, he will be. * * AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR * *
CF]Andruw Jones [projected 2005 stats] .269-49-112
Of course, Jones is unconscious right now. It looks like he's finally starting to become the player the Braves organization believed he would be for the past decade. Tremendous .575 SLG with decent .344 OBP. * * BETTER THAN LAST YEAR * *
Look, these guys aren't coming close to J.D. Drew's production last year. Langerhans will be a fixture in the outfield for years to come, but his .313 OBP and 100+ strikeouts make his talents more of a wash than a plus for 2005. * * WORSE THAN LAST YEAR * *
C]Johnny Estrada [projected 2005 stats] .275-8-77
Estrada is duplicating his 2004 rookie year pretty well, although his batting average and OBP had dipped significantly. Still, he's doing a good job. * * WORSE THAN LAST YEAR * *
The pitching staff is hard to compare because of the Breaves having 60% of the rotation on the disabled list. However, John Smoltz is on track to win 16 games with a 2.88, and Horacio Ramirez should end up with about 13 wins, although is 5.04 ERA is a real liability for the team. Justin Thompson has an ERA of 3.42, Tim Hudson 3.78 and Mike Hampton 1.83. Their replacements are Jorge Sosa [3-1, 2.97] and Kyle Davies [3-2, 4.75].
So, what does this all mean? It's hard to tell.
Of the position players, when compared to last year, two are playing better than last year, two are about as good as last year, and four are playing below 2004 levels. The pitching would have been much better had the injuries not occurred, but the replacements, Sosa and Davies, are doing pretty well in holding down the fort until the "big boys" return.
Andruw Jones has been carrying the Braves for the past three weeks, and his hot streak has made for a nice story, but count on the fact that it's going to end soon, and Andruw will again become that nice hitting, great fielding centerfielder that we know and love. Chipper's return will take up some of that slack, but let's face it: Jones hasn't put together one of those "monster" seasons since 2001 when he hit .330-38-102. Since then, he's produced more in the area of .315-24-100, good numbers but not big enough to make a large difference when he returns.
If the big 3 pitchers on the disabled list come back and continue to pitch before they were hurt, if Andruw Jones continues his record pace, if Chipper comes back and increases his production, if Ryan Langerhans and Kelly Johnson continue to improve as rookies, if Rafael Furcal decides he doesn't want to be lumped with Cristian Guzman as "largest disappointments" for 2005, if no other players go on the DL, If Dan Kolb finds his way back from his own little private world, then yes, the Braves should and likely will z-o-o-m past the Nationals and take their rightful place atop the NL East. But what's the chance of all 10 "has to happens" actually happening? That's a tough accomplishment.
All of this also assumes that the Nationals don't get any better. At current pace, the Nats will win 95 games, the Braves 86. Adding Jose Vidro negates Chipper Jones' return for the Braves. And remember this one very important fact: Atlanta management has repeatedly emphatically that they don't have ANY MONEY to spend for the rest of the year. Zero. Nada. Bupkus. The Nationals, however, have at least $3 million, and maybe much more to spend on talent this year. Major League Baseball, who owns the Nationals, initially had no desire to invest a single penny into the team for 2005 until they saw how the Nationals first place position has raised the selling price of the team. A few more dollars invested could win at least a wild-card, which in turn would make the team even more valuable. A very good investment for MLB.
No question, the Atlanta Braves have all the tools to restock their team with young players ready to go today. The Nationals minor league system is like a grocery store in the old Soviet Union. In two years, LaRoche, Estrada, Giles, Jones, Langerhans, Johnson AND Andruw will all be all-star type players. They very well may be restocking for another run of 14 consecutive pennants. If the Braves in fact do have a soft underbelly, this would be the year that it shows. The Mets can't supplant the Braves as best in the east. Neither can the Marlins. If the Phillies find another arm and Thome gets very, very hot, they might. And the Nationals? Well, the Nationals are the team to beat in the NL East right now, not the Braves.
It should be an interesting summer.
Nationals Downright Presidential In 3-0 Win Over Blue Jays
[June 24th] There are literally thousands of reasons why baseball in Washington is so very special. One of them is seeing whose at the game. On a warm summer evening, Robert Francis Kennedy Memorial Stadium was full of both postal workers and Presidents. George W. Bush, former owner of the one-time Washington Senators and current Texas Rangers, came to watch the game with Secretary of State Condy Rice, both guests of team President Tony Taveras. They enjoyed what they saw.
Behind six shutout innings from Esteban Loiaza, the Nationals continued their dominance in their home park, winning 3-0 and pushing their home record to a league best 25-9. The Nationals are now 43-30, 13 games over .500 for the first time this season. The Blue Jays fall to 37-37. They are now 4 games ahead of the new 2nd place team in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves, who beat the Orioles Friday night at Turner Field. Loiaza wasn't just the pitching star of the game.
Vinny Castilla and Junior Spivey opened the second inning with singles. Brian Schneider lined out and Cristian Guzman flied out to deep left-center field. With Esteban Loiaza coming to the plate, it looked like a wasted opportunity. Wrong. Loiaza pulled a curveball down the left field, driving in his first runs since 1998. Brad Wilkerson lofted a deep homerun over the rightfield fence to complete the scoring at 3-0.
With the news that Jose Vidro "tweaked" his knee while practicing in Pittsburgh Wednesday, Junior Spivey becomes an even more important part of the Nationals offense, and he is continuing his offensive rebound, going 2-4 and raising his average to .242. On the down side, Cristian Guzman is now 3 games removed from his last hit, and seems to again be uncomfortable at the plate. Nick Johnson got a hit, but hasn't really done any damage in more than a week.
It was so nice to see Esteban Loiaza pitch well and [finally] get a win. He is now 3-5, lowering his ERA to 3.63. The bullpen of Majewksi-Ayala-Cordero closed out the Blue Jays, allowing a combined 2 hits in 3 innings. Chad Cordero ho-hummed the Blue Jays in the 9th, saving his league leading 24th of the season. Cordero's ERA dipped below 1.00 to a teeny, tiny 0.97. Who woulda thunkd it.
Tomorrow, the Blue Jays Ted Lilly goes against Mr. National, Livan Hernandez. Lilly is 5-7 with an embarrassing 6.08 ERA, while Livan is 10-2 with a 3.34 ERA. I know, I know. Games aren't played on paper, which is good for the Blue Jays, because on paper, things look bleak for Toronto tomorrow night.
Ryan Church will miss the rest of the series due to an injury to his shoulder when he bounced into the wall while catching the last out of Wednesday's game against the Pirates. He is expected to play against the Pirates when they come to town next week.
Josh Towers Vs Esteban Loiaza Tonight At RFK
[June 24th] The bad news is that the Toronto Blue Jays come into Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium on a difinitive high, having just won three out of four games from the suddenly struggling Baltimore Orioles. The good news is that the Blue Jays spent their magic bullet Thursday against the Orioles, one Roy Halliday. The Blue Jays have won 37 games this year, and Halliday has won 30% of them. The last time the Nationals faced the Blue Jays, Halliday was the difference, beating Washington 7-0 earlier this season. Without him, the Blue Jays are 26-32, a very sub-par team. The Nats will face Josh Towers Friday, Ted Lilly Saturday and probably Gustavo Chacin on Sunday, all very winnable games.
FRIDAY MATCHUP: Esteban Loiaza vs. Josh Towers
Esteban says he is feeling much better and doesn't think his stiff neck will be an issue Friday night. For the season, Loiaza is 2-5 [bad] with a 3.87 ERA [good]. Esteban is still second in the major leagues in lowest run support for a starting pitcher, hence the good ERA and the bad won-loss record. Don't worry about him, though. He'll come through for the Nationals.
Josh Towers: Age: 28 -- Drafted by: Baltimore [15th round, signed as free agent by Blue Jays in 2003]. Throws: Right -- Bats: Right
Towers has four pitches and throws none of them very hard. What he does is throw strikes all game long. His fastball barely reaches 90mph on a good day. Towers is a competitor who isn't afriad to push hitters around with his location. If his curveball is on, you're in trouble as a team. If he is having trouble with curve location, Towers is going to get whacked around very hard. He gives up too many hits, but doesn't walk many. He has a career 30-29 record with a 4.88 ERA.
Towers has pitched poorly his last six games, dating back to his loss to the Nationals. In 31 innings, he has given up 50 hits and 27 runs while striking out 16 and walking 11. Over those six games, Towers have averaged only 5.2 innings per start, giving up 8 hits and 5 runs per start. He has a 7.75 ERA over those last six games.
Helping Towers is the fact that he is on the road and playing at night. Josh is 3-3 away from Toronto with a 4.26 ERA. At night, he is 4-2 with a 4.01 ERA. So without question, he is better away from the Rogers Centre.
Hopefully, the RFK magic will continue a little longer. The Nats could easily win 2 out of 3 and further pad their lead in the NL East. Of course, that's what we said the last time these two teams met.
Nationals lead the major leagues in come from behind victories with 27 ... the just completed 5-4 road trip saw the team increase their lead in the NL East from 1.5 games to 2.5 games ... Washington has a string of 10 straight home wins going into tonight's game ... the home winning percentage of .727 leads the major leagues, the White Sox are 2nd ... the last home series the Nationals lost was April 25-27 against the Phillies ... the Nats are 15-5 in June and are only 5 games off the franchise record for wins in the month ... half of all Nationals games played since May 8th have been decided by one run ... Washington leads the major leagues with one run victories, San Diego is second ... 13 of 17 saves by the "Chief" have been one run varieties ... his 1.00 ERA is the best of all the closers in the major leagues ... the Nationals are 10-5 in interleague competition.
Now This Doesn't Happen Every Day
I don't know that I will ever be able to properly thank all of you who take the time to visit my site and read my musings about our Washington Nationals. It takes a minimum of 25 hours a week to keep the blog looking fresh and fun for you. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy each and every minute that I invest in the "Beltway Boys." But while I enjoy doing this for you, know that I do it for myself as well. It's very cathartic. I was a gangly teenager living within the beltway when Robert Short carpetbagged his way to Arlington Texas, and part of me, a large part I'd say, has felt jilted and alone since. Thirty-four years is a long time to feel jilted. So to now be able to connect with the Nationals, and re-connect with the Senators through this site has meant a great deal to me. It's a win-win situation.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not getting thousands of hits a day, but I do get enough to make the time and the effort feel worth while. I don't pretend that I'm a journalist, or that that anyone within the "baseball" community visits. That just couldn't happen. Could it?
I sat down this morning and began to look at the dozens of new emails in my in-box. This one wants me to buy an Ipod. That one suggests I need Viagra. Another wants me to subscribe to the Toronto Globe & Mail. Darn. I shouldn't have given them my email address. Delete. Delete. Delete. I clicked the delete on the next one down and glanced over to check it's title: "a sports illustrated writer has a question" it read. Hmmm. Probably spam from S.I. wanting to give me a free phone with a new subscription. Just before I hit delete, I scrolled over and opened the email, more out of curiosity than anything else. Below is the email, with personal information removed:
Hi Mr. Rushdi-- My name's Danny xxxxx and I'm a reporter at Sports Illustrated. I'm writing an article about the Nationals this week, and I stumbled across your blog... I was hoping you'd have some time to chat about being an original Senators fan, and now rekindling that enthusiasm for the Nationals. If you're free in the next few days, my number is 917-xxxx-xxxx, or if it's more convenient, I can call you. Let me know, and I look forward to talking, Danny
My immediate reaction was disbelief of course. I mean, what's the chance of a Sports Illustrated writer being one of the few people to visit my site. But, there was a phone number. So I called. To my surprise, Danny answered the phone. He returned my call in just a minute; I assume so that he could pay for the call, and I'm guessing he also recorded the conversation. We talked for almost a half an hour.
Danny is a kind and gracious young man. We never talked about the Nationals. No mention of Jose Guillen or Brad Wilkerson was ever made. No discussion of the Nationals amazing season ever surfaced. The story, from what I can tell, is about us, the Nationals fans who have shown a love so great for our new team that we gleefully give up much of our "down time" to write, attend games, wear apparel and generally support all things National[s]. We talked about what it was like to lose the Senators, and how that loss touched the heart of the city. As the questions progressed, it became very clear that Danny wanted to understand not how I felt about the Nationals team, but rather how I felt about baseball returning to Washington. Some of his questions had no immediate answer; I had to pause and ponder often in order to give him an honest and relevant answer.
None of this was about "me." Danny saw within "us," the Nats Nation, a burning love for Washington's new baseball team, a desire to give not just our money, but our time, our talents and our abilities to make the Nationals a success. As the season progresses, the "bandwagon" is becoming full of Washingtonians who are on board because the team is a success. We were there before opening day. We were there before the Mayor said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Baseball is back in Washington!" We were sketching uniforms with a myriad of team names last July. We've created dozens of ball parks and lineups. We read the newspapers in New Orleans, Harrisburg, Vierra and Savannah to see how the "kids" are doing. Danny is impressed with this side of Nationals baseball, and that's what he's going to write about.
While the Nationals may be good, the Nationals' fans are great. And come next Wednesday, all of America will understand just how lucky the team really is to have us all. We do make a difference.
Zimmerman Hits First Professional Home Run
Ryan Zimmerman more than made up for his professional debut last night. Zimmerman, who went 0-4 with two strikeouts last night, stroked his first homerun of the year, a line shot over the rightfield wall to give Savannah a 1-0 lead over Charleston in South Atlantic League action Wednesday night. But offense wasn't the only reason that the Nationals made the University of Virginia star their number one pick in the recent MLB amateur draft.
Later in the game, with runners on first and second, a Charleston batter smoked a line shot towards third. Zimmerman lunged to his right, stabbed the ball, touched the 3rd base bag and threw the ball to first to complete the remarkable double play. Nationals GM Jim Bowden has repeatedly said that Zimmerman's defense is ready for the big leagues right now.
Zimmerman has been promised that he will only be at Savannah for two weeks. He will then be promoted to AA Harrisburg as promised. Don't be surprised if Zimmerman receives a "cup of coffee" with the big club this September, especially if Vinny Castilla continues to struggle throughout the summer.
Guillen, Chief, Star But Church Saves Day With Acrobatic Catch
Brian Schneider, left in the game to bat against a lefty relief pitcher, plunked a two strike pitch the other way into left-center field to score Ryan Church from 2nd base. All the other heroics wouldn't have mattered had Schneider not come through.
OK. Now to the cool stuff.
The Nationals are finally, finally beginning to realize that the game begins in the first inning. After scoring in the first inning in the first two games of the series, Jose Guillen stepped to the plate against Josh Fogg. Strike one. Strike two. Instead of wasting a pitch, Fogg threw a fastball down the middle and the former Pirate hit it deep over the left-center field fence. A Ryan Church double scored Nick Johnson and it was 2-0 going into the bottom of the first. I ran to the bath room. I came back. It was 3-2 Pirates. Jason Bay, the former Nationals minor league prospect, homered deep to left, and Rob Mackowiak followed with a 470 foot drive than landed in the Allegheny River. Ouch. Matt Lawton continued the long ball barrage with a deep bomb of his own in the 2nd. However, that was it for the Pirates. They were shut out the rest of the way by John Patterson, Hector Carrasco and Chad Cordero.
The Nats tied the game in the 5th on a very interesting play. With Jose Guillen on first and Jamie Carroll on 3rd, Josh Fogg picked off Guillen and the Pirates got him in a run down. They did everything perfectly. That is, besides forgetting Carroll at 3rd. The diminutive infielder scampered home before Guillen was tagged out to tie the game. Schneider's bloop single in the 8th scored the winning run for the final 5-4 score.
Jose Guillen went 4-5 with two homers and ended the series 8-14 with 4 home runs. Guillen now has 15 home runs for the year. Junior Spivey went 2-2 and is showing signs of life at the plate, although his 67 strikeouts for the season is 4th in the league and just a few behind second place Brad Wilkerson. It looks like Cristian Guzman's 2nd hitting streak is over as he went 2-12 against the Pirates. Carlos Baerga got another pinch hit and is beginnng to show me that he has a real talent for bench work. Wilkerson, Carroll and Guzman had "ofers."
John Patterson. Sigh. John Patterson. I'm ready to finally admit that he isn't as good as his numbers suggested early in the season. I think he's a 14-12, 3.75 type of pitcher, good for a number 3 pitcher, but not for the #2 guy in the rotation. If the Nationals have any hope of staying in the hunt for the NL East title, they have to got another arm, and I don't think there is one available, especially at our price range.
Yes, another one run victory. I'm proud of the boys for getting out of one nasty jam in the 7th inning. With the bases loaded, Carrasco got Tike Redmond to ground to Nick Johnson, who threw home to get the 2nd out of the inning. He then struck out Jason Bay to end the inning.
But none of this would have made a bit of difference if Ryan Church hadn't finished the game with 2 out in the 9th inning. After two easy outs, Humberto Cota slammed a deep fly to left that at first glance looked like it was heading out. Church sprinted towards the wall, and while battling the sun, twisted back across his body and snatched the ball inches in front of the fence. That ball should have been a double, possibly and triple, and who knows what might have happened.
After losing to the Pirates Tuesday night, I felt the "doubts" creeping back at me. You know, we've all felt them: "No way the Nats can keep this up." They proved me wrong again. They went 5-4 on this road trip, winning two of the three series. They now return home to play the Blue Jays, and have the opportunity to give Toronto some "payback" for their last series.
Wow. The beat goes on.
"Will The Real Oliver Perez Please Stand Up"
So, which Oliver Perez will the Nationals see tonight when the Pirates take on the Nationals at PNC Park. Last year, Perez had a break-out year, going 12-10 with a sparkling 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts. Most within the organization thought he "turned" that corner from thrower to pitcher. Things have changed this year, however.
Thus far, Perez is 5-5 with a whopping 6.22 ERA. What has changed in just one year? Well, he is on pace to give up 40 more hits, 35 more walks, and strikeout 50 less than last year. He is also giving up twice the number of home runs. He's just not as accurate as he was last year. His command is still there, however, so he's as apt to pitch a shutout and strikeout 15 as he is to give up 7 runs in the first inning. Perez is coming off his worst start of the year, giving up 6 runs in 6 innings against the New York Mets.
Perez is fearless in his approach to pitching -- nothing scares him. He has multiple arm angles, and at times looks like the Marlins Dontrelle Willis. He has a plus 90 fast ball and a slider that makes his fastball look 100+. A lefty, he can hold runners at first as good as anyone in the league. On the negative side, he's 'Tom Glavine' like in the first inning, where he hopes to contain the damage rather than get a 1-2-3 inning. Surprisingly, lefties hit him pretty well. Hear that Brad Wilkerson?
It will be interesting to see how Ryan Drese does tonight. In his second start with the Brewers, former National gave up 5 runs in 6 innings. We'll see if if Drese can continue his magic tonight in Pittsburgh.
The City Of Pittsburgh Deserves A Winner
It shouldn't be this way. The city of Pittsburgh is a renewed, revitalized city based more on technology than the old smelly steel mills that kept its skies gray for a century. Today, the skyline is sleek and modern, creating a 21st century city out of what once was the most archaic and mundane of America's eastern cities.
Forbes Field was replaced in the name of modernism, and for 40 years, Three Rivers Stadium became yet another symbol of Pittsburgh's inability to "get it right." Over the past decade, Pittsburgh has become a city of new hope and new dreams. The keystone to Pittsburgh's rebirth lays along the banks of the Ohio River: PNC Park. Pirates owner Kevin McLatchy, who when he purchased the club said "If the city builds me a new park, I will be able to infuse the necessary resources to make this team a winner for decades to come." Uh-huh. The city of Pittsburgh kept its part of the bargain, but McLatchy has not kept his.
The Pirates should have returned to the promised land by now. Gone should have been the pain of Pittsburgh fans as they have watched their stars depart for greener pastures since the early 1990s. But no. The names have changed, but the result remains the same. A team with a small payroll continues to try balance the budget without concern to wins and losses. There is no hope for the future. Unless the Pirates start to win, team ownership can't expect more than 20,000 fans per night, and unless the Pirates begin to draw more than 20,000 fans per night, ownership has no intention to increase the payroll.
The Pirates fans have continuously suffered since the day that Barry Bonds left many years ago. Within a few seasons, the entire core of that championship team were helping other teams win championships. We should feel so lucky. Our first year back in the "bigs," with a $47 million payroll, we're in first place, have the second best record in the National League, and trades have already been made to better the team. And that's the difference. Nationals management wants to win, while Pirates management doesn't want to lose money.
How sad. The Pirates fans deserve so much more.
"Welcome Back, Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out." -- Guillen Returns To Where It All Began, Pops 2 Homers In 7-4 Win
The Washington Nationals put a serious thumping on the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday night at PNC Park. Well, to be more precise, former Pirate Jose Guillen put a thumping on his former team. Oh sure, it was a team effort, but Guillen hit two home runs for the second time this season as the Nationals beat the Pirates and their top starter Mark Redmond, 7-4. Chad Cordero saved his league leading 22nd save.
Redmond, who had a 2.80 ERA beginning the game, gave up 6 runs and 10 hits in 7 innings. His ERA is now 3.14. Livan on the other hand pitched a typical Livan game. Lots of hits and walks, lots of double plays, ultimately ending in a win. Only 2 of his runs were earned, and for the 5th consecutive game, Livan's ERA dropped. It now stands at 3.38.
Junior Spivey is beginning to hit for his new team, garnering two hits and raising his batting average to .229. Cristian Guzman also continues to improve with the bat, getting a triple and a single. He now is hitting .212, a good number considering he was at .170 just a few weeks ago.
I listened to the Pirates feed, and they indicated that Brian Schneider was the one hitter that destroyed Pittsburgh pitching. He was 14 for 32 going into tonight's game, and went 3-4, raising his average to .260, perfect for a defensive catcher. Marlon Byrd went hitless and saw his average drop below .300 for the first time this season. The Nationals got 12 hits, getting more than 10 hits the last two games in a row. Been a while since they've done that.
Let's talk about Vinny Castilla for a second. I was worried that once the weather got warm, and once his 37 year old legs began to tire, that the Nationals' 3rd baseman might see a significant drop in production during the second half of the season. I'm afraid it has begun early. Already in a 17-77 slump, Vinny went 0-4 and is now hitting only .258, simply unacceptable for a power position on a team with little power as it is. What can we do? Maybe Jose Vidro can play 3rd when he comes back, leaving Junior Spivey at 2nd. Or perhaps Brendan Harris, who already has proven he can hit major league pitching, might be recalled from AAA New Orleans.
The Nationals are now 41-29, and are a full 3 games ahead of 2nd place Philadelphia. The team continues to play well, and they continue to draw well when at home. How well? The Washington Nationals have had more crowds of more than 28,000 this year than the expansion Senators had during their entire 10 year run in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Pirates' announcers said that the Nationals are drawing "well" considering they play in a "dilapidated" park. Sigh. I wish all these journalists and announcers would visit RFK before making light of it.
The magic continues.
Steel City Review
Now, if this was the guy leading the Pirates on to the field tonight for their game against the Washington Nationals, I'd be scared. But he's not. Roberto Clemente is "Mr. Pirate," and there aren't any replacements for that title on this team's roster.
That said, I'm still concerned. The Nationals rolled into Cincinnati a few weeks back and swept the Nats, and did it easily at that. The Pirates aren't as bad as the Reds, but they aren't very good either. They have a few starters who will be all-stars during their careers, but no one player that can carry the team on their back for a couple of weeks at a time, guys like our own Livan Hernandez and Nick Johnson.
The 2005 Pirates have a team ERA of 4.05, certainly competitive but not low enough to give you a chance to win every night. Offensively, Pittsburgh is batting .257, again, good enough to win, but not on a regular basis.
Pittsburgh's rank among the 16 National League Teams: (The Nats score is next to the Pirates in the parenthesis. Example: Hits:14(11) ..... 14 is the Pirates rank, 11 is the Nationals rank. Average:12 (9) ... Runs: 15 (14) ... Hits: 14 (11) ... Total Bases: 14 (15) ... Doubles: 8 (T8) ... Triples: 1(2) ... Homers:12 (5) ... Strikeouts: 8 (9) ... Stolen Bases:15(16) ... Double Plays: 14(15) ... Left on base: 4 (8) ... On base percentage: 14(10) ... Slugging percent:11 (15)
Pitching Total Wins:11 (2) ... ERA:7 (6) ... Complete games:10 (14) ... Shutouts:5 (9) ... Saves:4 (2) ... Hits allowed:3 (9) ... Homeruns allowed:5 (2) ... Hit batter:3 (7) ... Walks:15 (11) ... Strikeouts:14 (15)
1B]Daryle Ward .276 – 11 – 40 (.332 OBP - .505 SLG)
Projected 2005 Stats: .276-28-103
Ward is a left handed slugger with great power. Like many lefty power hitters, however, he’s too aggressive and tries to hit the ball 600 feet each at bat. He does hit in the clutch and drives in more than his share of runs. Defensively, he’s barely MLB adequate. He’ll never be an everyday player in the major leagues, though several teams will try during his career. However, there is nothing wrong with being a quality platoon player in the major leagues.
2B]Jose Castillo .265 – 3 – 20 (.309 OBP - .377 SLG)
Projected 2005 Stats: .265-10-64
2005 is Castillo’s second full year in the major leagues, and he has shown improvement in many areas. He’s more powerful, strikes out less, but doesn’t walk at all, as his .309 on base percentage attests. The future looks bright, and to be honest, he’s doing more than any healthy 2nd baseman the Nationals have in the fold.
SS]Jack Wilson .231 – 4 – 13 (.270 OBP - .360 SLG)
Projected 2005 Stats: .231-10-32
By the numbers alone, it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who roamed short for the Pirates last year. In 2004, Wilson hit .308 with 11 homers and 59 RBI’s. This year … well, this year things aren’t “quite” the same. Can you say Cristian Guzman? Defensively, he is tremendous, with soft hands, wide range and a strong arm. He runs well and sprays the ball against both lefties and right-handers. However, he doesn’t walk nearly as much as he should, and his average seems below his talent level.
3B]Freddie Sanchez .289 – 0 – 11 (.347 OBP - .393 SLG)
Projected 2005 Stats: .289-0-32
Sanchez’s numbers are based on 150 at bats, so it’s not like he got called up two weeks ago. It’s not that he’s not a good player. It’s that he’s not a good third baseman. Sanchez is a contact hitter who never strikes out. He uses the gaps effectively and his instincts are worth .10 points on his batting average. Isn’t as selective as the Pirates would like, but that is a relatively minor flaw.
Without question, Sanchez is a stop-gap until they can find someone with power to play the corner position. For now, the Pirates have two 2nd baseman playing at the same time.
LF]Jason Bay .299 – 12 –33 (.384 OBP - .574 SLG)
Projected 2005 Stats: .299-29-80
Would you like to have Jason Bay as a member of the Nationals organization? You did. Omar Miniya, in one of his many BAD moves, traded Bay and another player to the Mets for a major league utility infielder who was released 5 months later. Oh brother. Bay is a disciplined hitter with solid power. Combines slightly above average speed with quality base running skills to become great on the base paths. He doesn’t do well when he is behind in the county, and curves and change pitches can make him look bad.
RF]Rob Mackowiak .309 – 6 – 34 (.400 OBP - .482 SLG)
Projected 2005 stats: 309-15-72
Mackowiak’s projected stats are not an aberration; lat year, he hit 17 homers and drove in 75 RBI’s. Mackowiak doesn’t walk enough, strikes out too much, yet his OBP remains in the .385 range for his career. He has decent speed but doesn’t steal, pointing to the fact that he isn’t the best base runner on the major leagues. He is a quality defensive player. Mackowiak isn’t the kind of player that a team wants to build around, but he’s certainly good enough to have on a team in a pennant race.
RF]Matt Lawton .265 – 7 – 27 (.367 OBP - .433 SLG)
Projected 2005 stats: .265-20-80
Matt Lawton has been a consistent producer since his days in Cleveland. He has speed and power, runs the bases well, and covers great range in the outfield, though his arm isn’t as strong as it was earlier in his career. Lawton is a hard-nosed guy who takes baseball seriously. He’s a fun player to watch.
C]Humberto Cota .254 – 4 – 18 (.309 OBP - .355 SLG)
Projected 2005 stats: .254-11-52
Cota is beginning to prove himself as a major league catcher. He will never hit like a Mike Piazza, or a Brian Schneider for that matter. But he will provide occasional pop, drive in some runs when you don’t expect it, and let the opposing team know that home plate his is office and you have to go through him to visit. He has a great arm though he isn’t throwing out a high percentage of base runners, but that will come with time. He’d be a great catcher on a power-laden team, but is a detriment on a weak team like the Pirates.
Number of Superstars: 0
Number of Stars: 1 [Jason Bay]
Number of Quality Players 1 [Matt Lawton]
Number of Decent Players 4 [Mackowiak / Ward / Wilson / Castillo]
Number of Below Par Players:2 [Orta / Sanchez]
Not a single Pirates player could break into a healthy Nationals lineup with the exception of Jason Bay, who I would rather have than Brad Wilkerson. There are no budding superstars, no top-notch rookies. The Pirates are another small market, small payroll team trying as hard as they can, but with little success.
Nats Head To Steel City After Finishing 3-3 Against Top Two AL West Teams
A Day after I lambasted outfielder Brad Wilkerson for just not being what the Nationals need in the outfield during this pennant drive, for striking out too much, for going weeks with little or no production, the on again / off again centerfielder was on again, going 3-5 with 4 runs batted in and no, repeat NO, strikeouts. Gee, maybe he reads "The Beltway Boys."
After getting bombed in the first two games of the series, Washington came back to salvage the final game behind a 15 hit attack. Sunny Kim pitched another exceptional game for the Nationals since being recalled from AAA New Orleans, giving up only one run in 5 innings, striking out 5 and walking only 1. His ERA dropped to 2.81.
Let's talk about Jamie Carroll for just a moment. Carroll has a career batting average of .272, and many new Nationals fans [me among them] said, "Hey, let's play him full time at short or second -- he's a good player." Well he is, but he isn't able to play on an every day basis. When he does, his production drops considerably. Now that he's getting more rest, he's playing better again. Filling in for Vinny Castilla at 3rd base Sunday afternoon, Carroll got 3 hits and has raised his average to almost .260. Another benefit of the Junior Spivey trade.
So, a third way into this 9 game road trip, the Nats are 3-3, with 3 more games to go against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. Are we satisfied with a 3-3 record so far? We darn well better be. The Rangers and Angels have a combined record of 76-59, a .562 winning percentage. So, against the top two teams in the AL West, on the road, we split. I say wow! The Nationals played so much better in Los Angeles because the Angels have a more traditional ballpark, more conducive to the Nats style of play. The Ballpark in Arlington, although attractive, is not a place to play NL, station to station, good pitching and defense type of ball, the Nationals style of play. The close-in outfield fences and small amount of foul territory take away many of the Nationals strengths. If the Texas park benefits offense, why then didn't it help the Nationals too? With that smaller outfield, the outfielders play much closer in, and are better able to stop bloop singles and cut off potential doubles. Our kind of an offense plays better in Denver than it does Arlington.
So, we're off to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates currently sit in 3rd place in the NL Central with a record of 31-36. They are 16-17 at home, and are 4-6 in their last 10 games, Certainly ripe for the picking. I'd guess the Nats will win 2 out of 3, and end the road trip with a record of 42-30. The Phillies, currently in 2nd place, 2.5 games behind, goes to New York to play the Mets, the worst in the division.
The main point all Nationals fans need to remember is that we shouldn't be in a pennant race; we shouldn't be in first place, and we shouldn't care less about the standings right now. Repeat after me: A .500 record in September is great ... a .500 record in September is great...." That we are in 1st place right now feels great. Listening to Jeff Brantley wax poetic about the Nationals this evening on Baseball Tonight is tremendous. But winning the division will hurt the Nationals, and we don't want that. The new owner will say, "Hey if we can win the division [or wildcard] with a $47 million dollar payroll, why should I invest in a larger payroll?" No, lets finish well, but have a couple glaring weaknesses that need fixing. Let's let the new owner's checkbook make us even better than we are.
Can The Nats Continue Their Push Towards A Title With Brad Wilkerson Leading Off? I Say No
[June 18th] Yeah, yeah, I know. The Nationals lost to the Texas Rangers 8-1 Friday Night in Arlington Texas. John Patterson pitched badly enough to lose but could have won on another night. Cristian Guzman continued his to push to distance himself from the Mendoza line by getting 2 hits, one a home run. But the Nationals loss means nothing. The Angels clobbered the Nats 11-1 a few nights ago and Washington came back to win the last two games of the series. They're just as apt to do that again.
No, the problem isn't the loss. The problem is Brad Wilkerson.
For those of you have been reading my site for any length of time knows that I shy away at being negative; I always look for the silver lining. I mean, that Hitler fella created a highway system so great that one of the first things that President Eisenhower did was to duplicate it here in America. See? There is always something positive if you look hard enough. That brings us to the aforementioned Mr. Wilkerson.
While still drooling over the prospect of a baseball returning to Washington, I began to research the Expos players, and Wilkerson intrigued me above all else. He had speed. He had power. He could lead off. He could bat cleanup. He cold do so many things.
And he was so young. He could only get better.
But I have begun to realize two things about Brad Wilkerson. One, I don't think he is going to get better, and two, his strikeout totals are becoming disruptive to the team. I sat down in my comfy chair last night just in time to hear Brad Wilkerson strike out to begin the game. His next at bat, with two runners on and two outs, he struck out again. He struck out one more time, going 0-5 with 3 strikeouts, lowering his average to .275.
Some say a strikeout is just an out; no more and no less. I say that is bunk. Let's go back to Wilkerson's 2nd at bat last night and change the outcome. Runners on first and second with two out. Wilkerson grounds to shortstop Michael Young who throws the ball over Texeira's head and down the right field line. Both runs score and the Nats are ahead 2-0. Or perhaps he hits a fly ball to right that should have been caught, but Hidalgo lost it in the lights and those two runs scored. Unearned runs score every night in major league baseball, but to get an unearned run, the ball has to be put in play. Who among us doesn't remember the "rain game" between the Braves and Nats earlier this year at RFK? The Braves player hit a grounder to Guzman at short, who threw the wet ball wide of first allowing two runs to score. If that player strikes out, the Nats win and Cordero gets the save. But the ball was put in play, and the Nats lost the game.
Brad Wilkerson has averaged about 150 strikeouts a year. This year he will end up with more than 170. I took a quick tour through the MLB stats world and found that the typical leadoff hitter strikes out about 75 times a year. So Wilkerson fails to put the ball into play 95 more times than any other leadoff hitter in the major leagues. Who knows how many unearned runs that will cost the Nationals. Outs can be productive as well. With a runner on 2nd and one out, a long fly ball can move that runner to third. A strikeout can't. With runners on first and second and no outs, a ground ball can move them to second and third. A strikeout can't.
As of this morning, Brad Wilkerson is striking out 29% of the time he comes to the plate. Let's compare that to his fellow Washington Nationals: Nick Johnson: 20% -- Jamie Carroll: 17% [Spivey doesn't have enough at bats with Nats yet] -- Cristian Guzman: 18% -- Vinny Castilla: 13% -- Ryan Church: 24% -- Jose Guillen: 17% -- Brian Schneider: 11%. The closest to Wilkerson is Ryan Church at 24%, but that can be chalked up to his youthful inexperience. The "sluggers," Johnson, Castilla and Guillen average an astonishing 17% strikeout rate, a full 12% below the Nats leadoff hitter.
Will Brad Wilkerson get any better? The Braves Nation has been waiting for Andrew Jones to become the player everyone predicted. He is 28 now and he is what he is. I am afraid that Brad Wilkerson, age 28, is what he is. Knowing that, does he fit in with the long term plans of the Washington Nationals? We know he isn't a leadoff hitter. We know that while he hits .345 against lefties, he only bats .235 against righthanders. We know that he hits well on the road [.310] and does poorly at home [.231]. So at home, against a right hander, he is basically an automatic out.
Ever wonder why the Nationals do so poorly in the 1st inning? Does it ever vex you as to why we can't score early? In my view, it's because more often than not, we start almost every game with a strikeout. It's time we trade Wilkerson to someone who needs a power hitter for a genuine leadoff hitter, someone who can provide some instant offense.
Thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better now.