Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Went back inside, sat down, had a few drinks...

Nats 3, Bravos 2

I was in and out during this game. Helping to plan a wedding keeps you busy. (By the way, helping is the operative word here! The lovely future-Mrs. Rocket is doing the heavy lifting.)

But this game, which was a crucial win, reminded me of the games we always won back in the glory days of June. A reliable player stumbles, Guillen's manhood is questioned, and the bullpen hangs on in a nailbiter. Textbook!

"Old Faithful" Patterson had to leave with some stomach problems, apparently. I didn't see it, I was discussing pew bows!

The Braves threw at Guillen's head, apparently because Larry Jones didn't like it when Guillen slid into third base hard. El Bate Loco pulled a Frankie, got up and hit a bomb of a dinger a few pitches later.

I finished my wedding discussions in time to see recent call-up Jason Bergmann wiggle out of two bases-loaded jams. Then he got a hit and scored as part of a Nats rally to take the lead! Too bad for him that he'll likely be sent back down to make room for Guzman's understudy, Deivi Cruz.

Hector Carrassco, Gary Majewski and Chief Cordero combined to hold the Tomahawk Choppers at bay to nail down a huge win.

I've said it a few times after a Nats win recently. This could be the start of something good. And if the Nats can at least split tomorrow's doubleheader, they can continue a modest streak of momentum. Five teams are bunched within a game and a half of the wild card, with the Nats bringing up the rear. It's still not over.

They've already missed lots of opportunities. But another one is in front of them. Tonight's "Glory Days" style win is another good start.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


I have this weird memory of David Letterman on promos for his return to TV back in the early nineties. He would smile his goofy gap-toothed grin and spout a stupid one-liner. My favorite was "As always, the winner will be determined by the higher score." That cracked me up for some reason.

After a great game by Loaiza and the Nats on Friday to open a crucial series, the offensive was pathetic on Saturday and Sunday. They were shut out 6-0 in both games, managing only six hits in both games.

Guys, you gotta score if you want to win!

Now we go into division leading Atlanta for a four-game series. A split would be treading water. Three of four is a must in order to gain any ground. And of course, a sweep would be amazing.

With each series loss, it gets harder and harder to imagine the Nats in the playoffs. It can be done though, as we play most of our remaining games against the teams ahead of us. We just need to actually score a run or two.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Great Start

Nats 4, Cards 1

A long journey begins with a single step. The Nats need to step it up and dig deep if they want to make the playoffs. Tonight was a great start.

A 4-1 victory over the best team in the majors is a good way to start. It would have been nice to take more than one game from the lowly Reds this week. But that's in the past. Tonight, the Nationals did what they had to do against the Cardinals.

Loaiza was great. He allowed only a single run in the seventh once he was tiring. He only allowed three hits while throwing 96 pitches, silencing the best offenses in the majors.

And the bats managed four runs. A veritable explosion of four runs!! Not bad for the Nats' offense.

Wilk led off the game with his second consecutive homer. (He homered in his last at-bat last night) Jose Guillen had himself a decent night too, going 2 for 3 and scoring a pair. Loaiza got himself an RBI too.

A nice start for the Nats. Let's see if they can continue it. Getting at least one more against the Cards would be very, very sweet.

The Time of Your Life

Redlegs 5, Nationals 3

Sure, they're still in it. Two and half games out of the Wild Card is not an overwhelming obstacle, not by any means.

But when you fail to win the series you are supposed to win, like this week's against the Reds, realistically your chances don't look very good.

The Nats will spend the next week playing against the two best teams in the National League, St. Louis and Atlanta. At the end of the next week, what is now a fear could be turned into a cold, harsh reality. The Nats could be dead and buried. Unless they can dig deep and find something that's been missing for the past two months, stick a fork in 'em.

After a 100-win pace to the first half of the season, the Nats are now looking at a .500 record (81 wins) as a possibility. That would entail a 15-20 finish to the season. The way they're playing now, it's possible they won't manage even that. Here's hoping they keep playing for pride, long after playoff chances have flown by.

So what should we be pleased with? Before the season, every single last one of us would have been thrilled (or at least satisfied) with 81 wins. But after a 50-win first half of the season, our expectations skyrocketed. Was that unreasonable? Maybe, but personally I don't think so. Half a season is a large sample of games. Not even Mr. Superfan thought a 100-win season was possible. But 90 wins wasn't out of the question. And that should have been enough to challenge strongly for the Wild Card.

Some fans might tell you that we should be happy that baseball is back in DC and not worry too much about how the team is doing, especially given the circumstances. That's very true, at least to a degree.

But there's nothing wrong with wanting your team to do well. There's nothing wrong with being upset with a loss, and there certainly is nothing wrong with second-guessing the moves of a manager or GM. That's part of being a fan.

Being grateful for having a team and criticizing them are not two mutually exclusive sentiments. Both can be done. In fact, both should be done. Satisfaction with the status quo are how medicore sports franchises perpetuate themselves. Lack of fan involvement and passion in the fate of the team is why owners neglect their franchises. Then the team is caught in a vicious cycle of losing, which can drive away fans. Then, if worse comes to worse, the franchise moves. Like maybe to Minnesota or Texas.

So let's be grateful for the Nationals and remember this season fondly. But let's not be satisfied with a few months of winning. We can do better. Either way, we're in for the long haul.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Red Glove of Courage*

* with apologies to BallWonk

Nats 5, Reds 3

You can't help but like a guy like John Patterson. A guy who looks more like Lurch than a major league pitcher, he's become the Nats ace, someone from which you can expect a stellar effort.

He did it again last night, but by his own admission, he nearly cracked under the pressure. His escape routine in the seventh inning was a thing of beauty, getting out of a bases-loaded no out jam. He pumped his fist emphatically as he ran back to the dugout.

And know what I like best about it all? He wanted more. After getting the hook in the ninth inning, he sat in the dugout looking almost pissed as Chief nailed down the game. At first I wanted to scream at him (Look happy! Your team won!). But I realized that he was just mad he couldn't do more. I like that.

And the Nats won a game they had to win. From here on out, they have to win series. No two ways about it. A loss last night would have sealed a series defeat vs. the Reds, something they can not afford. It was encouraging to see them win on the backs of JP's arm and Guillen, Schneider and Vinny's bats.

It's not over yet. I never thought I'd see the day, but even Mike Wilbon is optomistic.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Curse of Jim Bowden

Redlegs 6, Nationals 2

Jim Bowden's new team is 0-4 against his old team. Cincinnati must be enjoying its dominance of their former crappy GM. No wonder JimBo is trying to bring the whole organization to Washington.

The Nats simply have to do better than this. Two runs on four hits against a mediocre pitcher certainly isn't going to cut it. A starting pitcher throwing 83 mile an hour fastballs is not good enough. Fouling up the signs in a key offensive situation -- that's the kind of mistake that is not acceptable.

Things are looking bleaker now with a starting pitcher on the DL and another apparently about to join him. Armas will have an MRI today on his shoulder, which everyone could tell was hurting when he served up an 83 mph fastball to Edwin Encarnacion, who parked it deep into left field. I swear, the guy is made of papier-mache. He may join Drese on the disabled list.

Not that losing Drese and Armas are huge losses in the talent department, but this puts us in a huge bind, at least depth-wise. We've either traded or released all of our starting pitcher depth. Even if you stipulate that trading away Zach Day and Tomo Ohka were good deals, it sure would be nice to have Claudio Vargas or Sunny Kim right now -- both of whom were given away for nothing.

Washington is tied for fourth place in the division and two games back in the wild card. If they even want to sniff the post-season, the Nationals have to start winning -- now. It only gets harder from here on out.

Said Jose Vidro: "It's time for somebody to get up.... The whole ballclub needs to show that it wants it. Right now, it doesn't look it."

Monday, August 22, 2005

Skirting Disaster

Since I last posted, the Nats have done just enough to avoid disaster. Twice, against the Phillies and the Mets, they pulled out a win in a situation where defeat might have severly hampered any playoff hopes.

After dropping the opener of Thursday's doubleheader in Philly, the Nats were in danger of losing the series. But they came back in the eighth inning of the nightcap, pulling out a victory to split the series. It was a fantastic victory in what was pretty much a must-win game, at least in my opinion.

I caught bits and pieces of each game in the Mets series on New York TV or radio. Friday was just another typical Nats loss; a brilliant John Patterson outing was wasted in a 1-0 defeat. Saturday, Livan -- who is in danger of ¡never! getting his exclamation points back -- imploded big time, allowing eight runs in less than three innings. Washington battled, tying the game in the ninth inning, but they couldn't push across another run, falling 9-8.

That left Washington in an essentially must-win situation again yesterday. The Nats responded, getting 6 runs in the first inning off Anna Benson's husband, driving him from the game before he could finish the inning. Loaiza pitched fairly well for a guy on short rest, allowing only a three-run homer to rookie Mike Jacobs. Also, kudos to Ryan Church, who seems to have found his stroke again, batting leadoff yesterday in place of a struggling Brad Wilkerson.

Despite a pair of fielding errors in the ninth, Washington hung on to win 7-4. The win prevented a sweep and salvaged a 7-6 roadtrip, which is not a disaster, considering how poorly the Nats had played prior to the trip.

So where does that leave us? Before the 13 game roadtrip from hell, the Nationals were two games back in the Wild Card and five and half games back in the NL East. After the trip, they're 1.5 back of the Wild Card and 5 back in the division. So we gained a half game in each race.

Considering the difficulty of the roadtrip, I suppose that's good enough, but just barely. They held their own; but with the season winding down, it's time to kick it up a notch. Twenty-five of the 38 remaining games are at home, so the opportunity is definitely there.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


According to several sources (including from the horse's mouth/ass), it may not be long before the Nationals' first round draft pick, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, is brought up to replace Cristian Guzman at shortstop. In fact, he already has moved to shortstop in AA Harrisburg, starting last night in the Senators' 7-0 loss to Bowie.

Now I have no problem with moving Dutch to short, on a permanent or short-term basis. Seriously. The third base-shortstop switch been done plenty of times before, to sometimes great results. I have no doubt that he has the skill needed in order to make the adjustment to another position. Apparently, one scout even likes him better at short as opposed to third base. Dutch also played a lot of shortstop at Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, moving to third base full-time because

It does bother me, however, that this smacks of desparation from our circus master/general manager Jim "P.T." Bowden. Think about it: Cristian Guzman at shortstop is the team's highest profile and most obvious problem. Bowden's most glaring mistake is signing Guzman to a four-year, $16.8 million contract while giving up high draft picks in the process.

Zimmerman was Bowden's first draft pick. Calling him up to replace Guzman is a high-profile way to fix your biggest mistake with one of "your boys." It really bothers me that it seems that Bowden is willing to take a risk with Zimmerman's development in order to cover his ass. There are other options besides Dutch.

It's clear that Guzman is a problem that needs to be fixed. Jamey Carroll is not the solution for any period of time much longer than a few days. Despite his limited experience, Junior Spivey may be worth a look at short once he returns from injury. But Brendan Harris, Rick Short (pictured at left), Kevin Orie, and Juan Melo are all option the Nats have in the minor leagues.

Calling up Zimmerman and playing him could possibly tamper with his development and also start the clock on his option years, opening him up to the waiver wire and Rule V eligibility earlier than planned.

Dutch can and may do very well at shortstop in the big leagues. But while there are several other viable options, is it really worth risking the biggest minor league investment just to cover an interim GM's ass?

Bent, But Not Broken

Phils 4, Nats 3

This was a game that would have been a huge, huge win. We would have moved into a tie for first in the Wild Card and also into a prime position to take 3 of 4 from the Phillies going into todays doubleheader.

And it's a game we should have won. Failure to score a runner from third base with less than two outs -- which happened in the seventh -- is just not acceptable for a team in a playoff race.

Yet it's not a killer, despite the fact it would have been a huge win. We lost a game to the Braves, but Philly leapfrogging us is all that happened in the Wild Card race; we're still a half-game out. That said, it is a must to at least split the doubleheader today. A sweep would be even better.

With Guillen's single in the ninth and Preston Wilson's 10 pitch at-bat, it was another game the Nats had a shot at winning despite poor play. If they truly want to make the playoffs, the Nationals have to step up and start delivering in these situations.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Just A Box Of Rain

Just one question: Why in the world did the Phillies ever have this game started?!

Loaiza goes tonight and there will be a day/night doubleheader on Thursday. Imagine how huge a win tonight would be? It would force the Phils to try to sweep the doubleheader in order to salvage a series split.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Wachet Auf

Nats 6, Phils 3

The new shipment of bats must be working or something like that. The Nats extended their winning streak (gasp!) to four games behind four Washington homers, a pair of which were two run dingers from the much maligned Preston Wilson. (Hey, I'm more than happy to be wrong from time to time if it means we win!)

Preston said it well after the game: "It feels good to contribute to a win. I think that's going to be the thing about us down the stretch -- a different night it's going to be a different guy -- and everybody is going to do their part and chip in."

His point is worth taking. There's enough good, decent players on this team that it can be someone different every night who sparks a win. Just about everyone was contributing in June. Problem was, nobody stepped up in July. Last night, Preston was the latest to step up in this nice little August four game winning streak.

Now that the offense is awake, I think it's safe to start feeling mildly good about the Nationals. If my math is correct, the Nats have hit more homers on this road trip (14) than in the entire freaking month of July (13). The most significant thing is the fact they hadn't been winning games due to offensive power. If the long ball bats are finally awake, then this could be a dangerous, dangerous team down the stretch.

I don't usually listen to Michael Wilbon for opinions about baseball, much less anything else. But he had a decent (although obvious) point on PTI yesterday evening. The Nats lost something like 13 straight one-run games during their horrendous July slide. But the fact they've only been one-run losses is encouraging. If the Nats can get that little bit extra -- that extra hit, that extra good pitch, that extra play in the field -- then they can keep themselves in the playoff race through September.

They have the talent. They just have to do it.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Rocky Mountain High

Nats sweep Rockies: 4-2, 8-0, 9-2

I was in and out all weekend, but I saw enough of the Saturday and Sunday games to notice one very important thing. The Nats were smiling again.

Sure, they swept the Rockies, the worst team in the National League. And they did it in Coors Field, one of the best hitting parks ever.

But you've got to crawl before you can walk. Going into Colorado, they absolutely had to take two of three from the lowly Rockies. Not because failure would mathematically end the playoff chase, but because it would further drive the Nats into a funk.

Instead they responded in rather inspiring fashion, impressing even the most critical eye. Guillen stepped up on Friday, singling in two runs in the first inning, while Loaiza and the bullpen held the Rockies at bay. Armas and Patterson both got it done on Saturday and Sunday, despite each allowing an average of over one hit per inning. Johnson and Vidro stand out offensively from the latter two games, though nearly everyone had a contribution in some form.

The sweep pulled the Nats to within one game of the Wild Card lead. But the sweep is more important for what it does for the team's psyche. It hopefully has made them believe in themselves again. Winning the way they used to -- good pitching, timely hitting and some nice defense -- should bring back some of the old swagger.

And it couldn't come at a better time, as the road trip moves to Philadelphia and New York. It's yet another key point in the season, as the next seven games against the two division opponents is a prime opportunity to pick up some more steam in the drive for October

Friday, August 12, 2005

Everyday I Have The Blues

'Stros 6, Nats 3

I'm tired. I'm so very tired of watching the Nats play poorly. If it's not poor pitching, it's poor defense. And if it's not a lack of offense, it's a lack of clutch offense. Last night, it was a little bit of everything.

Drese couldn't get the ball anywhere near where he wanted. The Nats botched a rundown in the sixth, when the ball clanked off Vinny's glove. Their bats were dead, except for a pair of relatively meaningless homers from Preston and Guillen.

If you want more - read St. Barry; I don't have anything constructive to say.

Vidro did leave us with this quote, though. "We still have a chance. ... I'm never going to quit. This is a game you play every day, and you got to come back the next day and try to do it. We're only three games out, and we still got a month and a half to go. If you quit now, you don't love this game."

We've got to take at least two games from Colorado this weekend and do it in a convincing fashion. Otherwise, our hopes dim to nearly nothing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Opportunity Lost

Houston 7, Washington 6

So much for momentum. After winning the first game of the series, last night was an opportunity to pull into a wild card tie with one of our best pitchers on the mound.

But Livan was not good, giving up seven runs in six innings. He didn't have much of anything on the mound tonight. He didn't put much of anything behind his pitches; perhaps his knee injury was finally catching up to him.

He tried to do it with the bat though, driving in three runs with a double and a homer. But it wasn't enough. In the sixth, when the Astros broke it open, Livan chose to intentionally walk Berkman to load the bases in order to pitch to Ensberg. Bad move, as Ensberg got a hit to drive in more run, making the score 7-4.

The Nats mustered two runs off Brad Lidge in the ninth, but it wasn't enough. Frank sent gimpy Jose up to pinch hit for Free Swingy McGee Preston Wilson. But Guillen whiffed, stranding the winning runs on base.

So the Nats are now two games out of the Wild Card lead. They fell to six and half games out of first place in the division and are now tied for third. Only one game is between them and last place. All of a sudden, I'm very, very tired.


So it looks like Brandon Watson may stay in the lineup once Guillen returns. That probably pushes Preston Wilson to the bench. [sarcasm] He's done a fine job, eh? Good thing we acquired him. [/sarcasm] I've said it before, and I'm not the only one - but I'm pissed about Bowden's hard-on for outfielders. Our biggest trading chip, Zach Day, was traded for a guy that's stunk up the place, even though Bowden has said "pitching, pitching, pitching" was our biggest need. But then he lets Sunny Kim, our only long relief option, get away so he can give OF Matt Cepicky less than a week as a pinch hitter in the bigs. (While meantime, former Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Church was standing in the corner of the dugout, trying to get someone's attention)

Do you even know what you're doing, Bowden? Can you think two moves ahead? It's ok, you can admit it. Frankly, you'd feel more at home going back to the idiots on "Cold Pizza."

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Yes, No, Maybe

Nats 6, Astros 5

The stuff that didn't happen in the win last night is almost as significant as what did happen. (say that ten times fast)

The Nats did win an important game, creeping to within one game of Houston's Wild Card lead and hanging on to second place in the NL East.

The Nats didn't lose their 14th straight one run game, which would have dropped them to a confidence damaging 3 games behind Houston and into a tie for third in the NL East.

The Nats did hit four home runs, opening up a 6-1 lead over the 'stros, thanks in part to "baseball's stupidest park." (I will set myself on fire if DC gets a park that stupid)

The Nats didn't hold the big lead, allowing Houston to climb back in it, thanks to Cristian Guzman's amazingly brilliant play in the infield [/sarcasm] and a little help from the second base ump.

Brandon Watson did go 2-5 in his major league debut, with a double and a high fly ball that found the seats for a "Juice Box" homer. He joins the distinguished ranks of those who were hot in their Nats debut. Previous honorees include Preston Wilson, Junior Spivey and Marlon Byrd.

Ryan Church didn't play as yet another newly acquired outfielder leapfrogged over him for playing time, further proving that Frank hates him. I think Churchy needs regular playing time to develop and mature, and I'd almost rather see him do it in AAA than rot on the bench here.

The Nats did win a key game despite many mistakes and errors. Perhaps this might relieve some of the "pressure to be perfect." I can only hope.

The Nats didn't win as decisively as they should have, which would have been a major momentum boost to begin this road trip from hell.

But a win is a win is a win. Right? I'll take it, and we'll see if Livan can earn back his exclamation points tonight.

Monday, August 08, 2005

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.


Preston and Co. could take a lesson from Guzzy

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.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Taste of Glory

Nationals 7, Trolley Dodgers 0

Was this the most well played game of the Nationals' Inaugural Season? Without looking back over the schedule in detail, I'd say there's no doubt.

To celebrate the return of hockey, let's hand out the three stars of the game.

One Star
Cristian Guzman

I've been real happy the way he's improved at the plate over the last few days. Today he got himself two RBIs, going 2-4 including a single with the bases loaded. I think he looks more confident and is definitely more patient at the plate. If he can keep this up over the weekend, I wouldn't be opposed to experimenting with moving him in the lineup to see if it helps his production even more.

Two Stars
Brad Wilkerson.

Our boy Wilk added to his list of Washington Nationals firsts with the bases loaded in the eigth inning when he deposited a 3-2 pitch over the right field fence. The grand slam blew the game wide open and hopefully gave Patterson a little more confidence to go out and finish his masterpiece.


Three Stars
John Patterson

In a dominating performance by one of the league's best pitchers, John Patterson tossed a complete game shutout, allowing only four hits while striking out a career-best 13 batters. After the game, he sounded like a very happy man: "For the first time in my career, I feel comfortable in the clubhouse," he said. "I feel comfortable with the city. I feel comfortable with the fans. I love playing for Frank Robinson. He motivates me in so many ways because I have so much respect for him. . . . I feel like I'm in my element. . . . I love the fans here. I love them. They get behind me, and it pushes me to another level."

After a horrendous month of July, the Nationals started August off right by taking a series for the first time in nearly a month. The rubber match was such a decisive win in uplifting fashion, that hopefully it will serve as a reminder to the team of the glory days of June, a reminder of what they are still capable of accomplishing.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ain't it Grand?

Nats 7, Bums 0

I'm still giddy. John Patterson throws a complete game shutout, striking out 13. And Brad Wilkerson hits the Nationals' first grand slam to break it open.

This is what we needed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

I thought wins were only true in fairy tales...

Nats 3, Bums 1

Whenever I go to RFK, my emotions become heightened. A loss crushes me, and a win sends me home floating on air. My feet (and wheels) barely touched the ground after the game tonight.

In the early part of the season, Frank Robinson and other veterans of RFK said that balls would carry once the weather turned humid. Well, tonight was freakin unbearable, and all the game's runs were scored on homers. Not to mention that the Dodgers hit four last night. Has the prediction finally come true?

Armas was adequate. He allowed a dinger to Milton Bradley, but that was pretty much it. He threw way too many pitches though, and had to be pulled after 5 innings. The relievers were outstanding, especially Ayala and Majewski.

Preston Wilson and Nick Johnson hit monster shots to center field to account for the Nationals runs. Wilson had been anemic at the plate, but he looked good tonight with a double to add to his dinger. I'll overlook his pickoff, at least for now. Good ol' Nick Johnson did his part, dropping his bomb over the Chevy sign in right-center.

It was nice to see the Nats score runs due to power for once! Power is a muscle the Nats haven't flexed much this year. But tonight, the home runs brought RFK to life, which was a great feeling after the horrendous month we've endured.

Once Chad Cordero nailed down his 36th save, the PA system played "I'm A Believer" by the Monkees. It perfectly captured the mood as the Nats celebrated the win on the field. The fans applauded the Nationals as they came off the field. Frank and Schneider were among those acknowledging the crowd. Who knows how the season will end, but for one night all was well with the Nats faithful.

Launching Pad

Do I even have to say it? Another one-run loss; another game which we could have won.

The cavernous RFK turned into a home-run park for the Dodgers last night, who scored all five of their runs on four dingers. I don't know how to explain it, really. Perhaps it was finally humid enough last night for the ball to carry. And the (one of many) frustrating thing is, Esteban didn't pitch all that horribly apart from the three homers he allowed.

I can't believe I actually felt confident early in this game. Loaiza let up a dinger to Kent, but he's a good player, so no big deal. In the third, after Schneider was hit by a pitch, Guzman came up and wonder of wonders, he actually looked pretty good at the plate. He was patient, working the count and getting good swings. He eventually got a single to put two on with no one out.

Even though Loaiza failed to get a bunt down, (the third failure by a Nats pitcher in four games) Wilkerson made up for it by hitting a bomb of a triple to the warning track in left-center. That made the score 2-1 Nats, and I was confident for the first time in a long time. Of course, stupid Vidro and Guillen couldn't get the run home from third.

Trailing 5-2 in the eighth, the Nats mounted another comeback, giving me a glimmer of what proved to be false hope. A sac fly by Vinny and a throwing error by the catcher on Preston's SB helped the Nats cut the lead to 5-4.

But alas, they fell short yet again, losing another one-run game that should have been won. If any of several things are done right, maybe the Nats win this game. Instead they lose the opener of a key series against a decidedly mediocre team.

I can deal with losing. But the Nats should have the decency to go out there and get blown out big time. It would make things a lot less stressful on all of us.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I Did Not Use Steroids With That Woman, Period

My first real disillusionment involving sports figures probably came when the University of Michigan basketball program was found to have committed recruiting violations and was placed on probation. I was a huge fan of the Fab Five of the early 1990's, rooting for them in several NCAA tournaments was a highlight of my sporting youth, despite the continuous heartbreak. Finding out they had cheated shattering my fond memories. The Michigan basketball program still hasn't recovered.

Now, I never had any real feelings concerning Rafael Palmeiro. He was just a dude who played for several different teams; a guy with a mustache which looked a little weird. Recently, though, I became proud of him for two things. First, his refusal to play in the exhibition games -- arranged by the two commie dictators Havana Pete Angelos and Fidel Castro -- showed a lot of guts and made a powerful statement. Second, his adamant denial of steroid use in front Congress was very convincing, and at the time it seemed way more honorable than Mark McGwire's avoidance of the issue.

Well, that all changed yesterday after Palmeiro started serving a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. According to sources named in several accounts, Palmeiro did indeed test positive for a steroid, and possibly even a serious one. He's the first major star to be busted, coming on the heels of his 3000th career hit.

I don't have much original insight to add, but I want to concur with something both Buster Olney and Tom Boswell brought up. In his statement, Palmeiro denied that he ever "intentionally used steroids." He also said he couldn't discuss details because of the confidentiality agreements put in place by baseball.

I'm going to join Boz and Buster in raising the B.S. flag. First, Palmeiro, perhaps more than anyone, knows the rules. If he knows there's a possibility that a substance might cause a positive steroid test, he's got to avoid that substance. Second, the confidentiality process in is place to protect his privacy. If he truly wanted to clear up a misunderstanding, he could waive confidentiality and come out with the complete story. If it was an accidental or inadvertant incident, then it would be in his best interests to tell the whole story.

In the end, unless Jose Canseco tied Palmeiro down and forcibly injected steroids into his butt, then Raffy is responsible for knowing what goes in his body. End of story.

Monday, August 01, 2005

#!&@ you Jobu, I do it myself

That's a bit more like it.

Sunday's 4-2 win over the Marlins was the type of game the Nats usually won in June, but couldn't find a way to win in July. On the last day of that wretched month of July, Nick Johnson and Livan Hernandez led the Nats to a win, preventing a zero for the road trip disaster.

Livan was ¡Livan!, going 8 innings and throwing 145 pitches. "I wouldn't be able to wipe my fanny the next day if I did that," said Marlins pitcher Brian Moehler. Livan also made Marlins manager Jack McKeon look dumber than Frank Robinson, driving in a run after Guzman was intentionally walked to load the bases.

¡Livan! and Gary Bennett also made an excellent play in the second inning, sniffing out a suicide squeeze. The pitch was thrown high, and Bennett tagged out the runner who was breaking for the plate.

Nick Johnson heated up, belting two big hits and two RBIs, including a 429 foot blast in the ninth to tack on an insurance run. He also made several fine plays in the field, one of which aggravated his heel. Hopefully he'll be alright for Tuesday.

Vidro, Wilkerson, Castilla and Schneider all did not start the game - for either rest or injury purposes, or perhaps some combination of both. Unless some of these injuries are serious, which is a possibility, I take this as an encouraging sign. Frank had seemed unwilling to rest guys who were a little banged up, which was probably in no small part to Guillen's insistence that he and others go out and play, even if they were hurt.

Now I'm all for playing through a little pain. The modern athlete sometimes likes to take himself out if he feels a little twinge. But there comes a point when an injured talented player can be harmful to the team. It's best that he gets a day off to rest, while someone who's healthy gets a shot in the field. Hopefully this trend will continue.

Where do we go from here? The Nats began the week in first place in the NL East, but close it out five games back in the division and one game back in the wild card. It's very tempting to write off the season, due to the fact this team has fallen so hard and so fast. But if you choose to look on the bright side, we're still within striking distance of the playoffs.

A 29-28 record to close out the season would put us at 85 wins, which is enough to have an outside shot at the wild card, perhaps. Add a few wins to that total, and we're right in the mix.

It might take another hot streak of June-like proportions to guarantee a playoff spot. Some say our 20-6 record in the month of June was a fluke. And perhaps it was statistically improbable. But if the Nats are capable of doing it once, there's no reason it would be impossible to do it again.

And even if they don't make the playoffs, the fun will be in watching them try.