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NATS GET OFF THE SCHNEID WITH BRIAN'S BLAST

[June 4th] -- I enjoyed watching Saturday's Nationals' game on MLB.com, even Brady Clark's two-run, go ahead single in the 6th inning. But by the seventh, the feed began to fade in and out; I'd have video for four minutes, then lose it for five. It became so frustrating that I turned on my XM radio and listened to the Brewers' broadcast. I don't usually like listening to the opponent's announcers, but the poor video quality made the choice a necessary one. The only problem with this solution was the fact that the radio feed was about five seconds ahead of the video, so I always knew what happened before I saw it. So, the game reaches the top of the 9th, the Nats are down a run, and some fuzzy haired guy was pitching for Milwaukee. Ryan Zimmerman hits that seeing-eye single and then reaches third base on Marlon Anderson's grounder to second. Just as Brian Schneider came to bat, I lost my video feed one last time. Crap. Now Bob Uecker was my only conduit to the game's conclusion. I listened and Uecker spoke: "Schneider swings and hits a fly ball to right field (now I'm thinking it could be deep enough to score Zimmerman) .... it could be trouble (at this point, I'm assuming that it's a sacrifice fly) ... and that ball is .... outa here!" Just then, my video came back on and I was able to relive Schneider's blast. Nats win. Nats win. Uecker was not a happy camper.

Mike O'Connor saw his ERA rise to 3.25 in his no-decision effort, but he still pitched another outstanding game. Sure, he is still having troubles with walks, allowing six last night and has now given up 22 in just 44 innings. The upside is that he is striking out many more batters now than when he first took the mound two months ago. He struck out six Brewers and is now averaging almost seven strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Opponents have a miniscule .199 batting average against; it's the walks that have kept him from entering June with a perfect record. O'Connor has still yet to allow more than three runs in a game, which tells me that he's only going to get better as he takes the mound every 5th day for the next decade.

And how about that Billy Bray? Playing in his first major league game, the rookie mowed down the Brewers and earned his first victory in the bigs. Well, not really. But he did win his first game. Bray came into the game in the 8th inning in relief of Gary Majewski, and threw exactly one pitch before Brian Schneider threw out Cory Koskie trying to steal second base.

The two top rookie-of-the-year candidates have been showing their stuff at Miller Park the last two nights. The Brewers' Prince Fielder and the Nats' Ryan Zimmerman are considered the creme of the class of 2006. While it's true that Fielder's offensive numbers are a bit better (higher batting average, same number of homers and RBI's), Zimmerman's defense is gold glove, while Fielder has trouble fielding. Case in point: Zimmerman dove to his left with a runner on second and two out last night and saved a run for Mike O'Connor while Fielder dropped a perfect throw at first, allowing a runner to reach base. He also couldn't keep an errant throw by Derrick Turnbow in the 9th from scooting past him, allowing Zimmerman to reach second base. Fielder is going to be a good player, but not a great one. Lots of home runs, lots of strikeouts, lots of errors to go along with a decent batting average and a adequate on base percentage. But if he's this huge at age 22, what's he going to look like in ten years, and how is all that wear and tear on his knees going to effect his longevity? Don't get me wrong, I'd love to have him on my team, but I'd much rather have Ryan Zimmerman. It's kind of like asking someone if they'd rather have Brooks Robinson or Frank Howard on their team. Howard is the sexy choice but Robinson in the wise one.

Other than that, the Nationals played a very "blah" game. Yet another baserunner got picked off. Unlike all those other times, however, Alfonso Soriano made it to second by knocking the ball out of Bill Hall's hand. Luck, pure and simple. And Chad Cordero continues to require a minimum of two runners on base before closing out the game. To be fair, part of that was Royce Clayton's fault by misplaying a slow grounder with a runner on first. The Nats' didn't play all that well, but that's the mark of a team playing well, being able to win when playing below their abilities. The Brewers have now lost seven in a row while the Nationals have assured themselves of winning their fourth series out of their last five.

Hopefully, Tony Armas Jr. can make it a sweep on Sunday.


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