Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mr. Tony Would Be Proud

How 'bout that Hector Carrasco and that Cristian Guzman?

Yes, I'm well aware how pathetic it is that we're excited about the starting performance of a 35 year old reliever who had to scramble to find a job this year. But it's the something, and the Nats are playing hard, trying to finish the year over .500 and not in last place.

And yes, I'm also well aware of how pathetic it is that I have nothing else to say on the subject. But hopefully I'm not turning into Kornheiser, who used his two and a half paragraphs in yesterday's paper to defend old guys. Talk about having nothing worthwhile to say.

Oh well, at least I'll be on that honeymoon in less that two weeks.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Pushed As Far As I Can Go

So this is how it ends? With a thud. Four straight losses. Three of them in which the Nats held the lead with two outs in the ninth.

Last night was a little different, as Washington fell 5-1 to San Francisco, paced by Barry Bonds' fourth homer of the year. Bonds may not be doing it ethically or legally, but damn -- he's good.

I didn't see the game, so I won't pretend to have anything insightful to say about it. But I do want to rip Mr. Tony Kornheiser a new one.

In today's Washington Post, Mr. Tony finally gets around to devoting his precious six paragraphs to the Nats. However, I guess shouldn't be surprised it's not actually about sports. In his "column" Kornheiser lays into Ryan Church for supposedly saying all Jews are doomed to eternal damnation.

If Church actually said that Jews are doomed to hell, then -- even though he has a right to his beliefs -- he shouldn't have framed it in such an unfortunate way.

But I think we should consider the possibility that Church is the victim of some ambiguous phrasing by the author of the article. Here's the section in question from the original article:

Church was concerned because his former girlfriend was Jewish. He turned to Moeller, "I said, like, Jewish people, they don't believe in Jesus. Does that mean they're doomed? Jon nodded, like, that's what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word."

Read that section again... I don't read that as Church proclaiming that Jews are doomed to eternal hellfire. As I read it, Church asked a question then reacted with surprise when receiving an answer from chaplain Jon Moeller. It sounds like he was merely relating to the reporter his reaction to the position stated by the chaplain.

I'm not going to get into a religious or political discussion here. I can understand that Kornheiser and others might be upset that some think they're doomed.

However, Mr. Tony's anger toward Church is misdirected. Ryan asked a question and received an answer. The reporter was recording his reaction to that answer. Kornheiser would be better served devoting his once-in-a-blue-moon excuse for a column to actual sports, rather than searching for a reason to make lame matzoh ball jokes at the expense of a guy searching for answers about his faith.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Wake Me Up When September Ends


So what'd I miss?

Seriously, I've tried to like Frank. I do enjoy his old man crustiness; I think it's funny and even sometimes refreshing.

But Saturday night is proof positive that he stinks.

Baseball. It's a cruel mistress. Commissioner Giamatti had it right:
"It's designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything is new again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone."
Here comes the rain again.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal

Nats 6, Mets 5 (10 innings)

Well, I suppose I should probably say something. After all, I had practically proclaimed the Nats to be dead. St. Barry must have killed and resurrected them about ten times now. Even Tom "Foam Finger" Boswell can't believe they're still breathing.

Just when I thought the Nats were going to let me and Churchy get hitched in peace, they had to go and sweep the Mets in a three-game series at Shea this week. Now, with 15 games remaining, Washington is 76-71 and 2.5 games behind the Houston Astros in the hunt for the Wild Card.

No less than a sweep of the Mets this week probably would have been acceptable. But we did it, somehow coming back to win yesterday afternoon on clutch hits from a number of players, but especially from the ghosts of Third Baseman Past and Third Baseman Yet To Come. (Sorry, Mr. Dickens.)

So, with 15 games remaining, what will it take to win the Wild Card? About 86-88 wins is probably the magic milestone. That means the Nats have to win 10-12 of the last 15 games. Check out the fine post from Chris for a more detailed breakdown.

Does it defy all logic that we can do this? Oh, definitely. But since when have the Nats -- and for that matter, baseball itself -- ever been about logic?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Beat the Mets

Wooo! We won! Twice!

Did I see the games? No, I'm still carting crap between my two apartments in my tiny ass car. Covering a 30 mile distance can be kinda time-consuming.

So am I'm happy we won and are now three games back with 16 games left? Definitely. But let's not get too excited. We still have to finish the year with a bang and have the teams ahead of us falter, at least a little.

So why are you here reading me? I didn't see the games! Go read Chris, Basil, Ryan, John, Herr Wonk, Brian, Harper and Jean-Pierre or any of the other fine blogs in my sidebar. Or you could just join the Order of St. Barry and read his fine game story.

(I can't believe I've devolved to this, giving reading recommendations!)

Monday, September 12, 2005

When that first leaf falls...

It was not a good weekend to be a sports fan in my world. My first sports love and my most recent sports love both fell apart in crucial situations, losing some very big games. Luckily for my psyche, I was too busy to witness most of it.

As I've mentioned before, I started forming my sports allegiances when I lived in Michigan as a kid. There's nothing bigger in southeastern Michigan than Wolverine football. And of course, when you love Michigan football, you despise Notre Dame. To this day, I can't stand the Irish. They're so damn insufferable, like they were ordained by God to win football games. It's so freakin' uppity of them. And I say that as a practicing Catholic.

Well, Michigan blew it. Freaking turnovers and an offense that couldn't go anywhere. They were bad. Passing the ball? What in the name of Bo Schembechler is that?! Run the ball, baby!! I don't care how long it's been since I lived in Michigan, losing to Notre Dame stinks big time.

And then there's the Nats, the team I've more recently grown to love. If I had actually seen any of the games this weekend, I might be out on a ledge somewhere. Seriously.

I caught the end of Friday's win only after the Nats had completed the comeback, so I missed any of the emotional highs of that win. I didn't see any of Saturday's win, but it sounds like we were never really in that game. But I can't imagine the pain of watching Sunday's comeback, only to see a blown save in the ninth. I guess I should be really grateful that I've been real busy of late.

Maybe this is all meant to put things in perspective for me. As I'm sure you're all tired of hearing, there's some big stuff coming up for me this fall. And right now, that's certainly where my mind is focused. It was also a tough weekend for America, as we're still digging out from Katrina while remembering the fourth anniversary of 9/11.

Things like these tragedies or a personal milestone like a wedding are certainly more important than sports. But still, once the dust settles, there's nothing like riding along with your team on the emotional rollercoaster of a season.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine

Fish 8, Nats 4

I think it would be accurate to call myself one of the more "optomistic/realistic" Nationals fans, at least among the jock-jaws over at Yuda's. I've resisted pronouncing the Nats completely dead, at least so far. But after the latest three-game losing streak, only the most blindly optomistic can hold out realistic hope.

Granted, the Wild Card is still possible. But let's think clearly here. At four games behind the lead with only 21 games to play, Washington would need a winning streak of at least four games to climb back in the race.

Can they do that? Sure, anything's possible. No one would have predicted 50-31 at the halfway point. But with only three starters you can count on to even give the team a chance to win, how likely is even a two game winning streak? I mean, we don't even know who the fourth starter is right now.

But let's assume the Nats can sweep the Braves and take the first game of the Mets series. That wouldn't even get you in first place in the Wild Card. Three teams are ahead of us. Milwaukee would need to sweep Houston this weekend.

But that leaves the Phillies and the Marlins. They play each other this weekend! Assuming the Nationals sweep Atlanta and Milwaukee sweeps Houston, whoever wins that series would move into first place in the Wild Card.

Therein lies the problem. All the teams competing with the Nationals for the Wild Card (save for Houston) primarily play each other the rest of the way. It helps the Nats in the sense that they play the teams they're chasing. But when those teams also play each other, it makes it very difficult to gain ground on all of them. Philly, Florida, New York and Atlanta's games against each other will likely cancel each other out, leaving the status quo in place. If one team gets hot -- let's say Florida -- that makes them the favorite, forcing the Nats the sweep the Marlins in the last series in order to even have a prayer.

It hurts to have the team fall so hard and so fast. But having a team to be emotional over, even if it hurts, is something joyous in itself.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

We want a pitcher, not a ...

Fla 12, Was 1

After returning from wandering in the wilderness, Chris Needham wrote a pretty good blog entry about Tuesday's loss. He talked about how every emotional reaction is intensified this time of year. Big wins make you the favorite to win the World Series, while crushing losses suddenly make you the worst team ever to trot onto a baseball field.

Being very busy this month, I've fallen prey to this quite often over the past week. I'll glance at the boxscore and either be elated or crushed. Yesterday, I think the bubble of this remarkable season finally popped for good.

Dontrelle Willis dominated the Nationals, who did everything in their power to lose this game. Seven Nationals pitchers were trotted out, all of them allowing at least one run. The Fish scored 12 runs and left 17 men on base. That's a pretty good indicator that your pitching stinks.

Washington managed only five hits, three of them by September call-ups. Young Ryan Zimmerman got one of those hits, but his inexperience at shortstop showed when he made two errors that each led to an unearned run.

One of Frank Robinson's major strengths has been his handling of the pitching staff. But John Halama, the stop-gap fourth starter, was only given the opportunity to pitch 2/3 of a inning, allowing a single run. I mean, sure, the guy stinks. But when you don't even have a fifth starter, do you really want to make your bullpen pitch 8 1/3 innings? I just didn't get it.

Last night was primarily about starting pitching depth. At the beginning of the year, the Nats had extraordinary depth. There were probably 7-8 guys that would be at least a serviceable #5 starter on many Major League teams. Now, thanks in part to injury but mostly to pure stupidity, the Nats can't even put a fourth starter out on the field.

Boswell jumped on this line of thinking (FINALLY!) in yesterday's e-mail column, and St. Barry continues the thought process in last night's game story. Right now, it would be nice to have at least one guy out of the group of Zach Day, Tomo Ohka, Sunny Kim and Claudio Vargas. One can debate endlessly the merits of the trades involving Zach Day and Tomo Ohka. But letting Sunny Kim get snapped up on waivers was careless. And Jim Bowden even waiving Claudio Vargas was stupid to begin with, since he apparently had an option year left. He could have been sent to the minors without putting him on the waiver wire!

Apparently Frank is considering going to a four-man rotation by the end of next week. That's alarming by itself, even though it's probably necessary. But what's flat out frightening is that the fourth starter would be the bullpen!

Jim Bowden you stink. Nats hitters - you stink too.

Tonight is about as must-win as it gets. Barring a minor miracle, losing tonight would likely doom the Nats - especially with how well Houston is playing as of late.

It would hurt a lot to miss the playoffs. But the fact we actually are hurting over baseball is a wonderful thing. This could be the first time in 34 years that Washington baseball fans get to say, "Wait 'till next year!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pump It Up

Nats 5, Fish 2

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Despite the fact we were in this all along -- at least mathematically -- a week ago I wouldn't have believed the Nats could be only 1.5 games out of the wild card with 24 games remaining.

They just weren't playing well. Whenever the opponent jumped out to a lead, it seemed that the game was all but over. And even if the Nats managed to come back from monumental deficits, as they did against New York and Atlanta, they would still lose a heartbreaker. Washington didn't have any confidence in itself, and frankly, neither did a lot of fans.

But they seem to have found their edge. With three consecutive victories in must-win games, I think the team has got the message that this is crunch time. Despite the clubhouse tensions Boswell has reported, the gravity of what's at stake may have finally shown up on the field.

And if that's means they're not allowed to play music or cards or movies in the clubhouse, then great. It's time to put all of their energy into baseball.

They're showing energy too. ¡Livan!, whose eight innings of masterful pitching earned him back his exclamation points, was a model of enthusiasm on the mound and at the plate. Marlon Byrd, who has been on a tear since returning from AAA, was animated in celebrating his successes at the plate. And Cristian Guzman, who had been removed from the game, was the first to greet ¡Livan! as he returned to the dugout to a standing ovation.

Indeed, the fun has begun. Of course, with Darrell Rasner and John Halama getting the next two starts, it may be a little less than fun the next two days.

Monday, September 05, 2005

They're aliiiiiiiiiiive!

Greeting from the new apartment, the future home of Mr. and Mrs. Rocket1124. As I write, I’m sitting on the floor of a mostly furniture-less living room, watching a grainy picture of the Nats taking on the Marlins, thanks to cheap pair of old fashioned rabbit ears. So far, so good; it’s 1-0 Nats in the third.

Between trips between the old and new apartments, I managed to squeeze in a trip to RFK on Saturday night. It was an excruciatingly painful game that dragged on for about four hours. Chad Cordero blew a save, and it looked like we might blow one of the biggest games this year.

Not only was I happy that we won, but I was very encouraged at the pure exuberance shown by the Nats as Jose Guillen scored on Preston Wilson’s double. The team bolted out of the dugout to mob Guillen as he scored, then turned to mob Preston out near second base. Wilkerson led the way, and Preston greeted him with an emphatic high five.

I stood there in section 421 taking this all in, and I couldn’t help but smile. These were the Nats I had fallen in love with way back in April. This was the same spirit I saw when Guillen and Castilla slid into home plate safely right on top of each other, then hopped up into each other’s arms.

A loss in Saturday’s game would have been devastating. It would have killed any confidence they had left, and it would have put them five games back of the wild card.

Now, after Sunday’s big win, the Nats are two games back of the Phillies for the wild card. And form all accounts, the team is feeling good. We’re still breathing.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Treading Water

The Nats did just enough to avoid disaster in the four game series at Atlanta, splitting with the Braves. They remain seven games back of Atlanta in the division, but fell to three games back of the Wild Card, with 28 games remaining in the season.

It's sooooooooo effing infuriating, however, that the two losses could have easily been wins. I missed nearly all of Wednesday's 5-3 loss in the first game of the double-header. But apparently the Nats ran themselves out of several opportunities to get back in the game. Not only did Guillen get his ass picked off, stupid Frank put on a hit and run with Vinny Castilla on base and Garry Bennett at the plate. Now I'm not one who thinks a hit and run is the wrong call 99% of the time. But Vinny can't run! It's that simple. And as nice a guy as Gary is, he can't really hit either. Stupid, stupid.

Last night, the Nats came back from a 7-1 deficit to tie the game. Old school Nats, right? I got my hopes way up that this would be a June-style Nats win, snatching a win out of the jaws of defeat in one of the biggest games of the year. But no. Andruw Jones homered to lead off the Braves half of the tenth, and just like that, it all turned for the worse.

Again, Washington ran themselves out of several opportunities. In the fourth, Vinny forgot how many out there were and got doubled off first on a fly ball to center. In the fifth, good ol' Cheeseburglar Baerga tried to go join Marlon Byrd on third base. (Perhaps he thought Marlon was packin' cheeseburgers. Har, har, har!)

I just now read St. Barry's game story. He puts it very well, as always. "Clearly, with September now upon us, treading water no longer suffices in the woolly, wacky, five-deep National League wild-card race. Although the Nationals emerged from this four-game series against the best team in their division with a split -- a solid showing, by most accounts -- they still came away with a net loss of a half-game in the standings and the feeling that something very meaningful was lost."

Treading water no longer suffices. That's a great way to put it. Three games out of a playoff spot with 28 games remaining is not an insurmountable obstacle. But almost all the teams ahead of us play each other too, dampening the opportunity to gain significant ground. The Nats have to win series -- even sweep some -- in order to push themselves to the top of the pack.