Who's our Daddy?
Coming into this weekend, no team in the NL West had a winning record. That was taken care of after the San Diego Padres got finished punishing our hapless Washington Nationals, sweeping a three game series in which we should have won at least two games.
Frankly, I don't think this team believes in itself any longer. That feeling best came through Friday and Saturday, when the Nats lost two games of the type they used to win, and win regularly. Washington had multiple leads in each game, despite weak starting pitching on both nights. But the Padres played like we used to play, mounting multiple comebacks and finally establishing a one-run lead they would eventually hold.
The Nats were just awful at the plate in both Friday and Saturday's games, despite actually scoring some runs. Vinny single-handedly stranded seven runners on Friday. Preston Wilson was bad on Saturday, hitting into a double-play in the first inning that killed what should have been a rally that would have set the tone for the whole game.
And yesterday, Jake Peavy dominated the Nats, tossing a complete game shutout. Peavy was great, but the Nats made him look better. Loaiza let Peavy drive in the first run and gave up solo jacks to Eric Young and Xavier Nady. Three very bad pitches, not to mention the fact he was picked off second base with nobody out.
The Nats are just bad right now. Apparently there's some internal strife in the clubhouse; it seems players are too concerned about what everyone else is doing. I've defended Jose Guillen before, but he needs to shut the f*&! up and start playing smarter. And according to another source, Wilkerson had been talking about Guillen also. If that's also true, he needs to shut the f*&! up as well. I love both players, and I admire their desire to win. But both of them need to realize that teams win games, not individuals.
Although it's certainly not the only reason the Nats are losing, I feel the acquisition of Preston Wilson was a factor in our recent slide. This isn't because Preston is a bad guy, and it's not because he's a bad player.
But I think it's because of something Jim Bowden said when he was acquired. "Hopefully, he can hit some three-run homers for us. He's going to strike out, and he's going to go 1 for 4 a lot. But hopefully, that 1 for 4 is with a three-run double or a home run. He's a guy who's a winning player, and he plays the game hard."
Well, that's more or less true. Preston strikes out a lot, but he's capable of the big blow, as evidenced by his three home runs in his three weeks as a National. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
But that's not the kind of success the Nats had been having. When we were winning, we weren't hitting a home run in every four at-bats. The batters weren't up there trying to change the game in one swing. We were getting timely doubles and singles, advancing the runners with well-placed bunts and ground balls.
As I said when Wilson was acquired, the trade changed our offensive emphasis. Instead of being a timely hitting, driving the ball into the gap kind of team - we were going to rely on the big blow. Not a smart strategy for a team that plays in RFK and has very little power.
Think about what that says to a guy like Ryan Church. He had been putting up rookie of the year caliber numbers by driving the ball to the gaps and mixing in a few homers. He also was playing a tremendous outfield defensively, crashing into the wall in Pittsburgh to make a game-saving catch.
But then the Nats go out and acquire someone who, by Bowden's admission, is there to deliver the big blow. The acquisition of Wilson pushed Church to the bench for all intents and purposes. It's as if they said "Churchy, ya did good, but you can't deliver the big blow. Take a seat."
So now, when Churchy does get into a game, he's up there pressing and trying to impress quickly so he can get his playing time back. Hitting six-run homers is not what he's good at, and perhaps that's why he's looked so bad lately.
(I also want to point out that when Khalil Greene's double hit the top of the left field wall behind Preston yesterday, I couldn't help but think that Ryan Church would have run full speed to make that catch, even if it meant crashing into the wall.)
Church and Wilson are not the reasons we stink right now. But when a player is acquired simply because he can deliver a big blow - that sends a message to the rest of the team. This big blow offense is what we're looking for. Go up there and start swinging for the fences.
Like I said, Church and Wilson are not the cause of the losing by this team. But the swing for the fences attitude is a big reason why we aren't winning. Players just need to go up there and do what they're best capable of doing.
It seems unnatural to compliment Guzman for anything, but he's a good example of this. He's still hitting below .200, but his average has been creeping up because he's playing within his abilities. He's gone back to his front-foot batting style and he's driving grounders and line drives into the outfield. Most of the time they're caught, but he's doing what he's best capable of doing in order to get hits.
THAT is what this team needs to start doing again. Do what you're best capable of doing in order to get a hit. For most of the team, that does NOT involve trying to hit six-run homers.
All that said, there is some good news. I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance... Wait, wrong blog.
Seriously though, we're still at a point where we control our own destiny. Many of our remaining games this season are against the teams we're chasing or battling. There are at least two series remaining against each of our division rivals.
And if we somehow sweep the Astros this week, we'd lead the Wild Card standings. A tall order? Definitely, but stranger things have happened. It can be done. Lose this series, however, and you can stick a fork in the 2005 season.