September 30, 2005

Closeout Sale

Everyone Must Go!

It would make me very happy to think that Mike Stanton is just the first of a veritable flood of free agents and role players the Nats will be jettisoning this weekend, but sadly he is likely the first and only. What, there's no trade market for Deivi Cruz? The devil you say! Oh, well. Thanks to Mike for a solid contribution, and for getting us something on his way out the door. Mike Stanton: The Anti-Junior Spivey.

Nationals Farm Authority has the lowdown on our two newest pitching prospects. The verdict? Eh, pitching depth is pitching depth.

March of the Smulyans

Maybe we should all start coming to terms with the idea that The Nats are going to be owned by a carpetbagging failed former owner. The Post is reporting that Jeff Smulyan's Emmis Communications Corp. is chipping in $100 million toward the price of the team. The Nationals would be a subsidiary of Emmis, run by Smulyan. Can you say undercapitalized, boys and girls? And the local luminaries that joined Smulyan's group? They'd still be there, as limited non-decisionmaking partners.

To his credit, Capitol Punishment picked up on this yesterday, ahead of the Post even.

Quote o' the Day

From Bill Ladson's Nats Mailbag: "[T]he top priority is re-signing Carrasco, who, next to Chad Cordero, was the best pitcher on the team." Ummm, Bill... you're the Nats beat reporter... you've met Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, right?

September 29, 2005

Sure, now you can hit . . .

While I'm happy to see the guys get some BP practice from the Marlins our little offensive burst might be a sign of why we're not going to be playing in October. When this team was predicted to finish in the basement at the beginning of the season there was zero pressure. Everyone was rightly saying that this year was a wash because we were just happy to have a team. Then the team started winning. There was still zero pressure because everyone said "the team is just playing over their head" and that "things will even out". Then came the All-Star break. The team had a five game lead in the division and an eleven game win streak under their belt. That's when the pressure started. If you're a contender at the All-Star break you really are a contender, not a pretender as they say.

At least that's what we were hoping for until they went into a tailspin. Once again the pressure was off. The team had returned to earth and they were no longer the wunderkind they were in the first half. With that expectation gone the Nats were free to get their act together and climb back into it. Another trip into the pressure cooker of being a contender. Two and a half games back of the wildcard with two weeks to play and six games against the teams they were fighting with. Once again the team crumbled, a victim of their inability to win games they should have.

Now with the elimination from the wildcard, they reel off back to back eleven run games. This team is obviously capable of producing, they smacked around Dontrelle Willis and he's a contender for the Cy Young and he has owned the Nats all year.

The baseball season is a long grueling march and it's a rare team that can go through the grind intact. This year the Nationals couldn't stand up to the challenge. Don't get me wrong, this is a successful season by any criteria but if this team wants to see the post season they're going to have to learn to thrive under the weight of being a contender. That's the really great thing about baseball, we get to start all over again in seven months to see if this team has learned anything, like maybe how to live up to great expectations.

Sweeping with the Fishes

  • Nationals 11, Marlins 7

Back-to-back 11 run offensive outbursts. Too little, too late you say? Indubitably. But a good sign nonetheless from a team that looked simply incapable of generating that much offense. Ever. Against anyone. Nicky had a good night, 3-5 with 4 RBI and 3 runs scored. Preston provided a on-his-way-out-the-door highlight with a 3-run homer and 5 RBI. But most importantly, the Nats secured a .500 season, and need to take only 1 of 3 from the Phillies to make their first season in DC a winning one.

The Post's Nats Notebook takes a look at Marlon Byrd's resurgence. Hitting .243 before his demotion and .306 since his return, one of the keys to Byrd's success seems to be his work with minor league hitting instructor Mitchell Page. Hmmm... a batting coach who actually improves players' batting... what a novel idea.

Oh Good, More Uncertainty

As if the whole ownership-stadium mess weren't convoluted enough, DC Mayor Anthony Williams is on the verge of announcing his decision not to seek a 3rd term. Tony's retirement is a serious blow to pro-baseball interests, and removes one of the Nats strongest supporters from city government. Of course, Tony Bowtie was no lock to win reelection, but he was the natural candidate of the city's business and development interests. It will be interesting to see what kind of monkey wrench this throws into the on-going stadium lease negotiations. With Williams a lame-duck, Council chair Linda Cropp becomes the point person for DC government, and she's no particular fan of Bud Selig and MLB. She is, however, opposed to carpet-bagging outside ownership groups, which is good.

Meanwhile, Bud assures us that an announcement on the new owners will be made as soon as possible. Even in the middle of the World Series, if necessary. On Capitol Hill for another round of steroids hearings, Selig said, "I understand why [a decision on the sale] should be made quickly. . . . We're trying to move as fast as possible." Now Bud, it's not nice to lie to Congress.

September 28, 2005

Fish Hate Byrds

  • Nationals 11, Marlins 1

Marlins, meet Marlon. You can say the Fish are slumping, that their clubhouse is in disarray, that Jack McKeon makes Frank Robinson look like Dr. Phil, but the bottom line is, the Nats went out and thumped arguably the best pitcher in the league. Hit him hard and consistently over several innings. Our boys have outscored the Fish 15-1 in the last two games, and one more win guarantees a .500 season. Let's see some run support for Stubby!

See, now I'm going to have to go rip Tony Armas Jr.'s arm off. Jose Guillen, pontificating on his subpar season, listed a number of valid justifications for his slump, most notably the myriad injuries that have hounded him all season. (Being the league leader in HBPs probably didn't help either.) But then he had to go and mention the fences at RFK. Said Jose, "I don't want to make excuses. I just need to make sure people understand I'm not playing in Philadelphia or Cincinnati, in those ballparks. I was playing in a really tough ballpark. I wasn't able to put on a show for the home fans." Judging by all the Phillies fan at RFK lately, one could be forgiven for thinking Jose was playing in Citizens Bank Park.

Platoon Spells Doom for Wilkie?

Brad Wilkerson is arbitration eligible in the offseason, and will likely earn slightly more then the $3.05 million he's making this year. The Times is hinting that he might be trade bait instead. If Wilkie goes, Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd are the logical replacements. Here's a look at how Brad's 2005 stats line up against the aggregate Byrd/Church.

B. Wilkerson: 552 AB, .250 avg, 74 R, 138 H, 40 2B, 7 3B, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 82 BB, 145 K, 7 SB

Byrd/Church: 477 AB, .277 avg., 56 R, 132 H, 28 2B, 5 3B, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 40 BB, 116 K, 6 SB

Even with all the Ks Wilkie produces a higher on-base percentage, but it's tough to argue that his numbers are dramatically better than the Byrd/Church platoon that would likely replace him.

September 27, 2005

A Time for Spoilers

  • Nationals 4, Marlins 0

Say it with me people... Carrasco! It rolls smoothly off the tongue. I'm still not sure he's worth resigning to a multi-year guaranteed contract next season, but I have no problem with riding him till he collapses this year. El Matador's line as a starter: 1-0, 21.2 IP, 0.83 ERA, 23 K, 11 BB. But you say you need offense to go along with 6 shutout innings from your starter? No problem, we've got Goooz!

Cristian went 3-4 at the dish, drove in 3 of the Nats 4 runs, and raised his season average to .215. My boy Goooz is hitting .371 for September, with a .828 OPS. All of a sudden, an infield of Johnson, Vidro, Guzman and Zimmerman ain't looking so bad for next year.

An Open Letter to A.J. Burnett

Dear Allan,

Thank you for your interest in the Washington Nationals. We understand that you are one of the top free agent pitchers available this offseason. However, as much as we admire your 753 career strikeouts and your impressive 3.73 ERA we are unwilling to offer you a position with the club.

Our scouts have noticed that you have an unhealthy tendency to walk batters, almost 80 this season alone. Cap'n Hook does not approve of pitchers who issue walks. And while we're on the subject, Cap'n Hook does not approve of pitchers who bitch and moan to the media about how the manager never says anything nice to them. If you think Jack McKeon is a mean old man, you do not want to meet Frank Robinson.

We are also of the opinion that a guy with a 98 mph fastball ought to be able to do better than a 49-50 career record. And frankly, you're something of a softy, having missed games almost every year with various arm injuries. Livo and Stubby do not approve of softies, especially if they're scheduled to be the highest paid pitcher on the staff. Frankly, if we wanted another hospital case, we'd resign Tony Armas Jr.

In conclusion, we at Nats Triple Play wish you the best this offseason, and suggest you look slightly north of DC, where you will undoubtedly be outrageously overpaid, and no one will be the least bit surprised when your arm falls off in June.

Best Wishes,


P.S. If Jim Bowden is still the G.M. this offseason, we look forward to seeing you and your $60 million contract in spring training.

Some good news.

I swear, I haven't been posting because I'm busy, not because I don't care.

"They see the finish line and they don't want the season to slip away," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. "They want to finish above .500. They have pride." (From ESPN's recap)

And that's how I feel. I know Watson's a little burned out right now, and Nate is watching the sinking, but you know, I have a little pride. I'm dwelling on some of the good. First off, we had baseball where we did not have baseball before. That's a good thing. The fact that we all have something to complain about and pick apart is better than last year.

Second, this year's showing is better than last. Last year's 67-95 season is a thing of the past. This morning, we're 79-78, and we're continuing to do battle.

Third, the Nats caught some of the imagination of this town. I had the distinct non-pleasure of driving through the city on Saturday, and saw more 'W' caps and Nats T-Shirts than I have ever seen. It's nice that the city cares.

Washington is 10th in total attendance. We beat Philly, Atlanta, Baltimore, Texas, and Florida in attendance. (It wasn't hard to beat the Fish in this one). And we notably are ahead of Boston in total attendance. Who are we looking upwards to? New York's teams, San Fran, Chicago, LA, San Diego, and one up from us Houston. (See this set of stats for attendance numbers.)

And finally, for those who say these games don't matter -- one more loss knocks the Marlins out of contention. I say Washington should be the ones to take them down.

I'm on the road Thursday and Friday, and looking forward to sitting in 313 on Sunday to catch the last game.

September 26, 2005

And We All Fall Down

  • Mets 6, Nationals 5

Forget moving the fences in at RFK, maybe we ought to think seriously about moving them back. Unless Mike Piazza decides to go DH in Los Angeles of Anaheim next year... and takes Mike Jacobs and David Wright with him. If I hear so much as one word from Jose (0-15 and counting) Guillen in the offseason about the fences at RFK, I'm going to find him and beat him to death with Tony Armas Jr.'s right arm. You know, the one he's not using to pitch.

There was a time when this team was 50-31, I swear there was. Of course, that's easy to forget seeing as how we've gone 28-47 since then. If we play .500 ball from here on out (and I see no reason to think that's possible) we will have achieved a perfect inversion of our first half record. Pitiful. And oh by the way, we've also fallen behind the Mets into last place in the NL East. I'm not sure how many teams have gone from leading their division at the all-star break to finishing dead last, but I think there's about to be one more.

In Other News

Land acquisition for the new stadium has hit the first of what I'm sure will be many roadblocks. Learn to love RFK. And the Not-Jeff-Smulyan for owner campaign has picked up two more converts. T. Boz and DC Council chair Linda Cropp both have the same message for MLB. No more Bob Shorts.

September 25, 2005

One & Done (Again)

  • Giants 5, Nationals 2

Sometimes one big inning is all you need, but that's the one big inning that the Nationals can never seem to get. Instead Livan (with an assist from Tony Blanco) gave up five runs before recording an out in the first. If you only score the game from the bottom of the first on, Livan pitched a gem. He threw seven more innings of shut out ball before giving way to Jason "Harvey" Bergmann who retired the side in order in the ninth. It's hard to feel like this game accomplished anything, what with the cavalcade of backups playing, but it should have definitively answered the question, can Tony Blanco be a big league first baseman? Answer: NO! All kidding aside though, I wish Tony well next year in Double-A ball.

The Kevin Maas Effect

Ryan Zimmerman certainly looks like the real deal. Back-to-back 3 for 4 days at the plate have raised his average a Rick Short-like .483, and he just missed his first big league homer last night, crushing a double off the left field fence. But the kid's only been up for three weeks. Pitchers don't have a book on him yet. The test will be how he does long about next May, when major league pitchers figure out how to pitch him. Baseball history is littered with supernova players, guys who burned bright for half a season or a full year, then flamed out and disappeared.

A couple of caveats. Zimmer looks like a hitter, not a slugger, which is good. He doesn't overswing, and rarely strikes out swinging (6 Ks in 29 ABs being an admittedly small sample). So the signs that he might avoid the fate of Sam Horn and Joe Charboneau, among may others, are encouraging.

September 24, 2005

It Was the One-Armed All-Star Shortstop

Yes, the Nats lost last night 5-2 to the Mets in 10 innings. No, I don't want to talk about it. I want to talk about the most recent chapter in Rafael Palmeiro's steroid odyssey. The one where he takes a page from The Fugitive and blames his troubles on the mysterious other man. The problem is, instead of making something up, Raffy decided to attempt to pin the blame on Miguel Tejada. Come on, if Palmeiro learned nothing else from the Congressional steriod hearings (other than not to point at Congress) it should be that you don't try to blame one of the most popular, respected men in baseball. After all, it was fingering Raffy that did in Canseco's credibility. I mean, if you're Rafael Palmeiro, and you're looking for a credible scapegoat, how do you miss the fact that Sammy Sosa's right there in the clubhouse?

September 23, 2005

The All-Rookie Team

  • Nationals 2, Giants 0

If yesterday's game was a partial preview of next year's Nats, then we've at least confirmed that our rookies and scrubs can beat the Giants rookies and scrubs. Of course, the Giants' scrubs are mostly their everyday players (I'm looking at you Niekro), while our scrubs are soon to be out the door (thanks for stopping by Deivi and Carlos).

This game also reinforced the apparently hard to grasp notion that Rick Short is a hitter (2-3, 2 2Bs, 1 RBI, 1 R). All year long this team carried two guys, first Wil Cordero then Carlos Baerga, who couldn't play a lick in the field but were supposed to be the designated pinch hitters. Wil was terrible, Carlos no better than average. If nothing else, this is a role Rick Short was born to play. The guy's hitting .462, with homers off of John Smoltz and Dontrelle Willis. I think he might be up to the challenge of pinch hitting off Steve Trachsel or Vincente Padilla.

Oh, and then there's El Matador. Hector Carrasco pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball and struck out 8, running his record as a starter to 15 2/3 innings, 17 Ks and a 1.17 ERA. The problem is Hector might be pricing himself out of the Nats market. He was signed to a 1-year, minimum salary deal. As a free agent this winter, it's likely someone will offer him a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. Already saddled by big contracts to Vinny and Goooz, I'm not sure the Nats ought to invest that kind of time and money in a 36-year old journeyman pitcher who grades out as a 5th or 6th starter.

The Cash-man Cometh?

The off-season, front office rumor-mill is kicking into a slightly higher gear. The speculation du jour? That Yankee's GM Brian Cashman will cash out of the Big Apple in search of less stressful climes. Cashman has DC roots, he went to Georgetown Prep and Catholic U, so it might not be a stretch to imagine him in the red,white, blue, gray and gold of the Nats next year. Especially since our most likely rivals, the B'Orioles, have a Steinbrenner clone in the owner's box. Who needs that kind of hassle?

September 22, 2005

Barry Me Not at RFK

  • Giants 5, Nationals 1

Well, crap. It's not bad enough that Barry Bonds (who is, paradoxically both clear & creamy and extra chunky) knocks another one out of the park, but I have to listen to a Giants fan cheer about it... from my seats! Watson and I will be having an extended chat about the proper ratio of home team etiquette to booty gettin', but at least she wasn't a Phillies fan. And Watson was nice enough to chauffeur us to Coyote after the game, thereby delaying the aforementioned booty gettin', so I suppose it all evens out.

Bring on the Rookies!

Having paid at least enough attention to statistics to realize that the Nats are toast (New mission: Screw the Phillies out of the playoffs!) Cap'n Hook has consented to tinker with the finely-honed offensive machine that is the Nats lineup by randomly inserting people who might, you know, actually put the ball in play once in a blue moon. High on the list: Ryan Zimmerman, Brandon Watson and yes, that's right, 32-year old rookie Rick Short. The traditional knock on Short is that he's a mediocre-to-terrible fielder, which is funny coming from the team that sanctioned the "Carlos Baerga is a 2nd baseman" experiment.

In other rookie news, the Nats named two players from Single-A Potomac organizational players of the year. Third baseman Kory Casto is the Nats player of the year, while lefty Michael O'Connor is the pitcher of the year. Now normally, organizational players of the year are guys you might expect to see up with the big club in the near future. But O'Connor probably needs at least one full year at Double-A, and Casto just happens to play the same position as an underpublicized Nats 1st round draft pick. Maybe J.B. can make him into a shortstop.

September 21, 2005

Dead & Barry'd

  • Giants 4, Nationals 3

First, we should clear (& cream) up a few things. Barry Bonds is a cheater. He is a steroid user, and all his stats are suspect. Nevertheless, he is the single best hitter of his generation. So the "we're going to treat him like any other hitter" school of thought doesn't strike me as brilliantly original thinking so much as stubborn determination to ignore reality. That said, the one time the Nats did the right thing and walked Bonds, Livo gave up his soon to be patented 3-run homer to Moises Alou. A strategy is only as good as its execution.

Going to the game tonight, to add my voice to the Greek chorus of baseball moralism. The pro-Bonds argument runs thus: A) He's been drug-tested out the wazoo for the 6 months, so he must be clean now. B) He has never publicly admitted using banned performance enhancing substances, so he can't be penalized. I will grant you that A) is more likely than not true, unless Barry has a next generation Whizzinator we know not of. But here's my problem with B):

I don't want to send Barry to jail for steroid use, or subject him to any civil penalty under law, so I have no use for the trappings of legal guilt or innocence. Pete Rose was ostracised from baseball for betting on the game despite consistently and vociferously denying for decades that he bet on the game. "Shoeless Joe" Jackson was tarred with the same brush as his teammates for throwing the World Series, despite evidence that he played his heart out on the field. Barry has admitted (in leaked grand jury testimony) to using steroids. That's it, game over. Wipe his records. Let him continue to play if he wants, let him rack up as many home runs as he can, but let his name appear nowhere in the official annals of baseball. There are no rules for achieving baseball milestones. There has never been a standard of proof, or leeway for reasonable doubt. On the field of public opinion, one strike ought to be more than enough to put Barry Bonds out.

September 20, 2005

It is to Laugh

Yep, we should be getting those playoff ticket invoices any day now. Thank goodness, I was getting worried. If (when?) the Nats don't make the playoffs, ticket holders can have their money refunded or credited towards next season. No word on the 3rd option: chipping in toward J.B.'s bus ticket out of town.

MLB swears up and down it wants an owner for the team before the playoffs, but claims the holdup is the DC city council and the
lease for the new stadium. If memory serves, this is the third bogus deadline MLB has self-imposed (All-Star Break, end of August) so I'm assuming it means nothing. And blaming the city is getting to be old hat. I put up with it during the initial relocation, but there's no reason the city should rush to nail down the lease details before MLB has assured us that the owner will have strong, authentic (not Jeff Smulyan) local ties.

Quote of the Day: In 13 games against the Robinson-managed Montreal Expos from 2002 to '04, Bonds hit five homers, drove in eight runs, walked 17 times and hit .306.
"We haven't completely shut him down," Robinson said. "But we contained him."

September 19, 2005

Good Isn't Good Enough

  • Padres 2, Nationals 1

Really, you could see this one coming. It's the logical hangover from Saturday night's extra-inning backbreaker. The Nats were beaten before the first pitch was thrown. The Padres got in their heads on Saturday, and by Sunday afternoon they were rearranging the furniture. Stubby pitched a gem, another short-rest scoreless outing, but when Goooz is the sum total of your offense, you have to expect to lose. And I believe the Nats did. They faced one of the few teams with a better bullpen, and choked. Counting from the ninth-inning Saturday, the Padres outscored the Nats 10-1 over the last 2 games.

Which leads me to today's reality check. The Nats aren't good enough to win the wild card. I'm not saying they don't deserve to win. In professional sports, where everyone draws a paycheck, no one deserves to win anything. Winning is earned on the field, not (as the Yankees would have you believe) in the payroll department. And I'm not saying the Nats aren't talented enough to win the wild card. Every team in the race is flawed, the Nats no more or less so. But good is more than talented. It's talent plus. Talent + health + luck + determination. The Nats have certainly gotten the short end of the health stick. And over the course of the season the luck has evened out dramatically. I think what's missing from this team is the will to win. Not the generic "We're winners, we're fighters, we are going to turn this thing around" rah-rah BS. The specific, moment-by-moment "I'm going to do exactly what I need to do in this situation" focus.

I can't count (though someone surely knows) the number of times the Nats have had a runner on third with less than two outs and failed to bring him home. Or the number of times there have been runners on first and second and our batters have been unable to get the bunt down. Or how many walks or HBPs our relievers have given up in tight games. In that sense I admire the way Livo pitches. On a 3-2 count, he's going to make the batter make a play. No free passes. Sometimes that pitch ends up in the right field bleachers a la Cliff Floyd. But sometimes it bounces down to Vinny, who makes the inning-ending throw.

I've been exceptionally critical of Cap'n Hook for his management of the starting staff. But I agree with his attitude toward relief pitchers. Relievers don't have time to settle in, explore the strike zone and get comfortable with the ump. Relievers have to throw strikes. They have to get ahead of batters and either strike them out or make them put the ball in play. Relievers cannot issue unintentional walks, ever.

Speaking of which, the Nats blogosphere is aflame with Monday-morning bullpen management. Contrast Capitol Punishment with Nationals Interest among many, many others. At least there's no arguing that D.C. fans don't understand the intricacies of baseball theory.

September 18, 2005

A Good Start Spoiled

  • Padres 8, Nationals 5 (12 innings)

Once is a fluke, twice is a trend, three times is evidence. The Chief has now blown two saves in a week on long balls at the last out. Are we on the verge of seeing evidence that Chad has been overworked this season?

Not that there was any reason he should have been in there at all. The Nats had a 5-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, thanks to a masterful 3-hit spot-start by Hector "El Matador" Carrasco, the newest member of our starting rotation. They had a 5-1 lead with two outs in the ninth, but Cap'n Hook, perhaps mistaking this for a little league game where everyone gets to play, managed to use all of our relievers in 2 2/3 innings, necessitating recourse to The Chief. Of course, the walks our relievers gave up contributed mightily to the problem.

With the loss, the Nats drop to 3.5 back in the wild card, still looking up at Houston, Philly and Florida. The life-support monitor beeps ominously...

September 16, 2005

The Long (Intentional) Walk

  • Nationals 6, Mets 5 (10 innings)

Now coming to the plate, an aging, limping once-power hitter (Kirk Gibson, anyone?). On deck, an aging, retiring 3rd-string catcher. You're Rick Peterson, the Mets pitching coach. Once the keeper of Zitos, Hudsons and Mulders you've been reduced to wrangling the occasional non-blown save out of Braden Looper.

You stride to the mound in the top of the tenth and inquire of Roberto Hernandez whether he'd rather pitch to Vinny Castilla or Keith Osik. When Hernandez expresses a desire to pitch to the batter with 1,815 career hits you stifle a mad cackle, suggest a fastball away and shuffle back to the dugout.

End result: Bang! Zoom! go the (metaphorical) fireworks! Nats win, Nats sweep and Rick Peterson slips a little deeper into madness.

The effect of this sweep on our playoff chances has been exhaustively documented. But this win also puts us closer to two laudable secondary goals. The Nats are now just 6 wins away from an 82-win season and a +.500 finish. The 3-game sweep also put us 4.5 games ahead of the Mets, making it that much more likely we'll finish ahead of $100 million worth of baseball team.

September 15, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe...

... to declare things over, the boys in blue keep on fighting. A sweep of the Mets makes me very, very happy.

The game was one I caught both on the radio and via TV over the course of the day (with a stop in the dentist from the 3rd to 5th innings, just in time to hear the grand slam as I got in the car). And the Fish loose, and Atlanta wins, meaning tonight we're 2.5 games out of the wild card, with the Philles and the Fish just .5 games behind Houston.

I'm just impressed. I have to say it. I didn't want to give up, and it looked like I should, and then they sweep.

Oh, and to make my night, I found an amusing blog, and he agrees with me about the flip-flops.

What a day.

Prepare for Ejection

  • Nationals 6, Mets 3

At last, the secret of Washington's success... someone has to get tossed. Wednesday night Jose Guillen volunteered to do the honors, one day after his adopted dad Cap'n Hook took the hit. Suitably inspired, Preston and Vinny hit back-to-back dingers to turn a 3-3 tie into a 5-3 lead, and an eventual Nats victory.

After that, the only drama was the sudden plague of scientific inquiry that overwhelmed the infield in the 9th inning, when The Chief, Nicky and Vinny gathered together just beside the pitcher's mound to watch a popup return gently to the earth. Having satisfied themselves that Sir Issac Newton's theories remain valid, the Nats returned to the business of baseball, finishing off the Mets on a double-play and a flyout to secure the win.

Mutiny on The Bobby

Since the Nationals (STILL!) don't have an owner, and MLB seems to care not a whit what goes on in the front office, the Nats are the closest thing to a publicly-owned team that exists in Major League Baseball. Yes, the Nats are the psuedo-Packers of MLB. And the ownership is getting restless.

Cap'n Hook's management, once seen as charmingly gruff and old-school is increasingly viewed as inflexible and detrimental to the team. The bloggers smell blood in the water:

  • Chris Needham at Capitol Punishment posts his critique of Frank here.
  • Nationals Inquirer's Basil Tsimpris follows with a meta-critique of CP's critique.
  • My own less systematic venting on the manage-by-gut school can be found here.

As of now both Bowden and Robinson are odds-on favorites to retain their jobs, just because the longer the Nats go without owners, the less time is available to bring in new people and get them up to speed before the free agent market kicks off this winter. But judging by the public mood, neither should be making long-term investments in the DC real estate market.

September 14, 2005

Remember Los Angeles of Anaheim!

  • Nationals 4, Mets 2

Hector Carrasco started, The Chief finished, and in between Frank got tossed for questioning umpire Joe Brinkman's visual acuity, personal hygiene and parentage. All that was missing was Mike Scioscia in the opposing dugout threatening to "undress" our relief pitchers. Oh, and somewhere in there the Mets screwed up often enough to hand the Nats a victory. Note to Jose Offerman: You don't need to tag up on a ground ball. Thanks though.

The Forbidden Love Between a Man & His Pitchers

It's a safe bet that John Halama won't be with the Nats next year. When asked if he regretted yanking Halama after 2/3 of an inning and forcing the bullpen to work like Alabama field hands in a 12-1 loss to the Marlins, Robinson said, "I'm not going to sit there and have him go ball one and ball two, ball three, ball four. I don't care if it was two outs, he was one hit away from disaster." As opposed to say, the rest of the bullpen, who were collectively 11 runs away from disaster?

In other odd managerial moves, Robinson also appeared to question John Patterson's toughness. "I can't tell you how long it takes to recover from what he had. But it's kind of a little sorry to accept that somebody would say on Friday or Saturday -- four days in advance -- that, 'I can't pitch on Tuesday, but I can pitch on Friday." I swear to God, if the Nats coaching staff "loses confidence" is another starting pitcher between now and October 2nd, I'm reserving Cap'n Hook a seat on the same out-of-town bus as J.B.

Whaling on a Dead Horse

Goooz's line from last night: 2-3, 1R. For the month of September: .320, 4R, 2RBI.

September 13, 2005


The Baseball Gods seem determined to make Frank "Cap'n Hook" Robinson use some of our rookie pitchers. Frank seems equally determined to ride the bullpen like a circus pony. In either case Big Nasty Patterson will be on the bench tonight, resting his sinuses.

(Oh ye Gods... Hector Carrasco gets the start. If this keeps up, I'm nominating Federico Fellini for official team videographer. Notwithstanding the fact that he's dead, I bet Frank could coax an inning or two out of him.)

Tom Boswell has graciously consented to write the rest of
today's post for me.

September 12, 2005

Pulling the Plug

  • Braves 9, Nationals 7

It's okay. It was a better ride than we had any right to expect. Going from 67-95 last year to a five game lead in the NL East, and still being in the wild card race on Labor Day? Not bad for the first season of baseball in Washington in 33 years. But it's over now. Yesterday's loss to Atlanta was a sign. The Nats played their guts out and stormed back to take the lead in the late innings, but for once they couldn't hold it. That's because Atlanta has what Washington is missing. Two guys (conveniently both named Jones) who can change the game with one swing of the bat.

Jose Guillen is the closest we come. And Jose is great. An above-average outfielder and hitter. But he can't hit homers at RFK. The Bobby is in his head. So Jose gets tense, thinks he has to hit a dinger every time, and ends up popping out. And there's no one to pick up the slack for him the way Andruw did when Chipper was on the DL.

My biggest concern for next season is where the additional power in our lineup is going to come from. Certainly a healthy Jose Vidro, Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson will help. But none of those guys is a 35-40 home run hitter. Assuming (please, God) that Preston Wilson leaves as a free agent, I think the platoon of Ryan Church and Marlon Byrd will replace his power numbers, but probably won't improve on them. Ryan Zimmerman is a good young infielder, but I don't think it's realistic to expect him to hit a ton of home runs his first full big league season. And yes, I do think Vinny will be gone next year.

So next year may be a lot like this year. Pitching, defense and pray for enough offense to get by. Which is fine, but we're going to need to restock the minor league pitching staff this winter.

September 10, 2005

Ummm, well....

  • Braves 4, Nationals 0

It always does my heart good to see the Virginia Pep Band (banished from UVA football games and forced to wander the Earth like Caine in Kung Fu), but it's sad when they're the highlight of the afternoon. Livan's eight innings of solid pitching were marred by only two mistakes, but those mistakes resulted in 4 Atlanta runs. Meanwhile, none other than Goooz was robbed of a 2-run homer to right by Atlanta super-roookie Jeff Francoeur. (Francoeur's cheering section is composed of people dressed as hotdogs, thus demostrating that if there were any cosmic justice Atlanta, not New Orleans would be the city smited by biblical plagues.)

On the plus side, the announced crowd of 44,000 (distressingly many of whom were Braves fans, but hey, if they want to spend their money on my team) put the Nationals just 80,000 shy of 2.5 million for the season. Tomorrow, in a triumph of hope over experience the Nats send Jason Bergmann to the mound to face John Smoltz. Let us pray.


  • Nationals 8, Braves 6

Jose Guillen's 1,000 hit, a 2 RBI double, provided the margin of victory and The Chief's franchise-record 44th save nailed down the win. Most encouragingly, the Nats did something they haven't done consistently since June, they came back to win a game with clutch hitting in the late innings.

Five months into the season I think I finally have the Nats figured out. They can't hit starting pitching. Doesn't matter who it is, if the opposing team puts someone out there on the mound and calls him a "starter" the Nats are flummoxed. But once the starter leaves and the Nats hitters get a whiff of relief pitching, hoo boy it's a whole different ballgame. Compare the starter and bullpen lines from last night's contest:

SP Horacio Ramirez: 5 IP, 2 ER, 3 K

Atlanta relievers: 3 IP, 5 ER, 0 K

Clearly, the Nats hitters need to take pitches and work the count in the early innings to drive up the starter's pitch count and get into the bullpen. Of course, this is also textbook Moneyball theory, but I'm adapting to the Nats and claiming it as my own.

Must Protect Goooz!

Another night, another 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1BB performance from Cristian Guzman, he of the positively radiant .203 average. Should Goooz's torrid hitting continue, there is a movement afoot to bench him for the final 2-3 games of the season, thereby preserving his above .200 batting average and sparing him the indignity of playing a whole season below the dreaded Mendoza line.

By the way, if MelRon Proctorling lauches into "The Mario Mendoza Story" just once more this season, I'll be forced to firebomb the RFK pressbox. Note to MelRon: Most Nats fans can't hear you, and those of us who can have been subjected to this story 70 times already. Get some new material.

September 9, 2005

Lo, the Apocalypse is Upon Us

Don't look now people, but the Nats leading hitter for the month of September is... Cristian Guzman. (.385 avg.; .929 OPS). And his 3-4 night at the plate raised his season average to .202! And there was much rejoicing...

September 8, 2005

Piling On...

I meant to mention this earlier, but it didn't fit in with my pitching rant. Super-rookie Ryan Zimmerman, playing shortstop for the first time, made two errors in last night's debacle against the Marlins. Two days ago, Frank said playing Zimmerman at short wouldn't be "fair," a position I heartily endorse. Yesterday he said, "From day to day, things change." Frank Robinson: Font of Consistency.

Zimmerman's errors aren't exactly unprecedented, he made 4 in one week at shortstop in Double-A ball. When informed of Ryan's defensive lapses, deep thinker Jim Bowden replied, "I never pay attention to errors in the Minor Leagues. Derek Jeter made 43 errors in the South Atlantic League, and I didn't care." Which is swell, but why should the Cincinnati Reds GM care what the Yankees top SS prospect is doing? And I don't remember Jeter making 2 errors in his first game at Yankee Stadium.

Could we possibly let the kid learn to play one position before we attempt to turn him into a utility infielder?

Short Work

  • Marlins 12, Nationals 1

Think not that the Nationals lost, but that Rick Short won. The Nats long-suffering minor leaguer hit his first major league homerun yesterday, providing the lone bright spot in an otherwise vicious shellacking by the Marlins.

Parental Warning: The following rant is offensive and obscenity-laced, and should not be read by children, the elderly or people with mental, physical or emotional issues. Read at your own risk.

What the fuck is the point of yanking your "starting" pitcher after 2/3 of an inning? No wonder no one wants to pitch for the Nationals. Frank "didn't like what he saw" and "wasn't going to wait till he gave the game away in the first inning." No indeed, why should Halama get to give the game away all by himself when it could be a collaborative effort with six Nats relievers? Instead of a 12-1 loss where the starter went 5 or 6 innings, we have a 12-1 loss that decimated the bullpen. Working over the bullpen puts more pressure on today's starter John Patterson, who already feels like he has to be perfect because the Nats hitters consider run support a privilege, not an obligation.

I'm beginning to lose patience with Robinson's manage by gut style. We jettisoned two starting pitchers (Ohka & Day) because the coaching staff "lost confidence" in them. By my count, over the course of the season the coaching staff has, at one time or another, lost confidence in Claudio Vargas; Tomo Ohka; Zach Day; Sunny Kim; Ryan Drese; Tony Armas Jr.; John Halama and Darrell Rasner. For those of you keeping score at home, that's 8 starting pitchers. Eight! To my mind, Robinson is directly responsible for the departures of Ohka and Day because he indicated they disrespected him. After recovering from failing to give Frank his props, Ohka is 10-7 on the year, with a 3.93 ERA and 76 K vs. 41 BB while Zach Day gave up 2 runs in 5 innings in his first start for the Rockies.

The other culprit here is Jim "Pitching, pitching, pitching" Bowden, who managed to lose two starting pitchers on the waiver wire and get exactly nothing in return. Gee, it sure would be nice to have either Claudio Vargas or Sunny Kim or both in our rotation right now. Thus endeth today's rant.

One potential bright spot: Jon Rauch, allegedly recovered from shoulder surgery, is back on the active roster and might be the 4th man in Frank's brilliant 3+1 four-man rotation.

September 7, 2005

Throw a rookie to the wolves

Watson and I are likely to disagree on this point (as we did in IM last night), but I think yesterday's move to have Darrell Rasner pitch was a huge mistake. Here's a brilliant idea -- because the rotation is only 3/5ths there, let's pull up a rookie from double-A ball and throw him out there. Yeah, that'll work.

Watson's point was that he only let up 3 runs. My point is that we seldom score that many. Despite our good run of late (which I'm very much enjoying, mind you), the Nats are a defensive and pitching team, not an offensive one. Rasner looked good in two innings, but shutdown in the third. These days, the Nats need to hold pitching at least until the 4th inning.

The Fish are in town for two more days. Tonight's starter is Halama, so here's pulling for it.

September 6, 2005


Odds and ends of interest to Nats fans:

Congratultions to Wilkie, who's expecting his second daughter at the end of September. Hopefully the kid will have her mother's plate discipline.

Congrats to Rick Short, who won the Pacific Coast League batting title handily with his .383 average. Nice to have a pinch hitter who can actually hit.

Welcome back Travis Hughes. All the guy does is throw shutout innings and he can't hold down a spot in the Nats bullpen. That's how scary good our pitching has been.

Welcome Keith Osik. Now that the Nats have nailed down the all-important 3rd catcher/backup utility infielder role, our wild card spot is assured. Osik's middle name is Richard, and he was born in 1968, so it's possible that his parents were going for a Stones tribute. Must check to see if he has a brother named Mick. Mick Osik, I like that. Sounds like an Irishman with a queasy stomach.

And finally, I have extra tickets to Saturday's Nats-Braves game if anyone is interested in filling in for Dave and Watson while they're off gambling in AC. Think of this as Nats Triple Play's version of September call-ups.

Ah, labor day weekend.

Friday night I had a quiet night at home, so I didn't catch the game.

Saturday I spent relaxing at home, and was supposed to take my parents to Saturday night's game. Dad ended up very sick, and didn't travel up to DC for the weekend, so Sharon and I went with Watson. A game Watson and I loved, and Sharon's most dreaded words -- "Extra Innings". The rare Cordero blown save was pulled out of the fire, and the game went the way we wanted and was a huge win.

Sunday the gang, led by Sharon, took me to Kings Dominion, and we heard about the big win on Sunday while waiting in line at the Grizzly.

And Monday, for my birthday, the Nats gave me a birthday present of another big win to open the series with the Fish. A game Sharon would have hated (as it was a pitching battle for most of it), but we ate it up. What a day.

And the train stays on the track and keeps rolling.

September 5, 2005

Birthday Ball

A big Triple Play shout out to Dave on the anniversary of his birth! Cake & ice cream (ok, beer and pretzels) will be served in Sec. 313 this afternoon in honor of Dave's nativity. And now, on with the show...

  • Nationals 6, Phillies 1

It's Earl Weaver time! The Orioles skipper once said, "The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers." For months the Nats have been adept at the first two and abyssmal at the last one, but somebody in the clubhouse must have finally read Weaver's wisdom inscribed on a bathroom wall somewhere. Not one, but two 3-run homers keyed a must-win against our neighbors to the north. Oh, and another outstanding performance on short rest from Esteban "Stubby" Loaiza.

A Call to Arms

A bold prediction... if the Nats fail to make the playoffs it won't be because of the lack of offense, it will be because the starting rotation fell apart and we had no pitching depth to back it up. Double-A righty Darrell Rasner, doing his best Matt White impression, will get the call-up and the start against the Marlins this week, while Tony Armas has been banished to the bullpen.

This leaves Frank with just four starting pitchers (one of whom is John Halama), and serious thoughts about going with a four-man rotation down the stretch. Fans interested in joining a class action lawsuit against the team for mismanagement should contact the law firm of Ohka, Vargas, Kim & Day which has offices conveniently located in Milwaukee, Phoenix and Denver.

September 4, 2005

"W" Stands for Duck Snort

  • Nationals 5, Phillies 4 (12 innings)

While Dave and Watson got to witness the magic of a comeback win live, I got to channel surf, thereby catching not only the Nats stirring comeback, but also UVA's opening-day pasting of Western Michigan (sure, I know... but a win's a win). Go Hoos!

Mad props to Preston "Duck Snort" Wilson for his game-winning cue shot that just got over the head of fat-but-powerful Phillies 1B Ryan Howard. A sympathetic pat on the head for The Chief, who is unaccustomed to pitching with a three run lead, and showed it by giving back all 3 runs in short order. Better now than in the NLDS Chad.

The injury train rolls on, with Nicky expected to join Vidro on the bench after aggravating his injured heel. And can we please get some help for the bullpen?

September 3, 2005

Victory in Extra Innings

Dave and I just watched the Nats beat the Phillies in 12 at RFK. It started out great with the Nats scoring 2 in the first. Unfortunately they didn't score again till the eigth. Patterson put in another fine performance only to be undone by an uncharacteristic blown save by Cordero. Thankfully the boys were able to hold on for a couple more innings until Preston Wilson could single to score Guillen. And finally the observation of the game from Dave:

"For the city of brotherly love Philly fans are assholes"

September 2, 2005

Return of the Goooz

  • Braves 8, Nationals 7 (10 innings)

Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb in your bullpen. Once your starter goes 5 innings, the bomb is armed. If your starter leaves the game, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?

Answer: I dunno but it probably helps to have Andruw Jones in the lineup. The Nationals, despite looking more than a little bit like the Washington Generals, managed to batter the Braves bullpen for 4 runs and salvage a 7-7 tie heading into extra innings. And then there was Jones... A series split, a 1/2 lost in the wild card race, the treading of water continues.

Veni, Vidi, Vidro

Translation: I hit, I ran, I blew out my knee again. If it proves to be as serious as it looks Deivi Cruz will move to 2B and Goooz! will be back at short. You cannot bench Goooz, you can only hope to compensate for him.

September 1, 2005

The Fat Man Goeth

Sidney Ponson, 1998-2005

Goodnight sweet Prince, and flights of CH-47D Chinook transport helicopters haul thy fat ass off to jail.

Vital Signs

  • Braves 5-3, Nationals 3-4

Stranded base runners for as far as the eye can see, but the fact that Nats are at least getting on base is encouraging. Less encouraging is the fact that Deivi Cruz was absent for both games of the double-header after missing not one but two flights from Frisco to Hotlanta. Now that's commitment to a playoff chase. Goooz responded to his last night as an everyday shortstop by going 2-4 with a double. Who knows, if Deivi gets lost on the way to the stadium, Goooz may be in the lineup again tonight.


All Hail Zimmerman! Surely a 20-year old rookie third baseman with no major league experience will save us. Poor kid, the first time he goes 0-4 at the plate and boots one at the hot corner, the "Zimmerman for Savior" crowd will turn on him like rabid meerkats. The rest of the cavalry will be slightly delayed by the dreaded budget restraints that we were assured wouldn't be a problem this year. Oh, if only J.B. hadn't ordered that deluxe espresso machine for the clubhouse.