May 21, 2006

2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad

Mission Accomplished. Sure, a 3-game sweep would've been nice, but I'll take a series victory any day, particularly a series win over those dirty thieving Baltimorons. More than 90,000 of DC's non-baseball fans turned out to see the Nats this weekend. It's not exactly the bleacher-bouncing heyday of yesteryear, but it's a start.

The Battle of the Beltway(s) had none of the light and heat of a New York subway series, or the sharp geographic divisions the delineate Cubs turf from White Sox territory in Chicago, but if you were there for any of this weekend's games, you know that all the raw material of a rivalry is in place. Nats fans hate the Orioles because of Peter Angelos. Orioles fans hate the Nats for (a) cutting into their revenue stream; (b) constantly reminding them how Angelos wrecked their team; and/or (c) not speaking in that gawdawful Dundalk patois, hon. It may not mean much to the players yet, but the fans are already there.

Even more encouraging, the Nats managed back-to-back well played games. When Tony Armas struggled through five mediocre innings Saturday night, the bullpen picked him up. Sunday afternoon Livan returned the favor, gutting out 7 innings of one-run ball for his second win of the season. In between the bats did just enough to take advantage of some truly abysmal Baltimore pitching. Ramon Ortiz is a terrible pitcher, but I wouldn't trade him for Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen right now.

I hesitate to mention it in the afterglow of Sunday's win, but Alex Escobar looks like a terrible centerfielder. No doubt some of his rust is attributable to learning a new park and readjusting to the speed of the big league game. But based on two games worth of personal observation he looks awful in the field, misjudging balls, taking bad routes and making even routine catches into Preston Wilsonesque mini-thrillers. He appears to have an above average arm and a decent bat, but I don't know how much more outfield defense this team can afford to sacrifice. I shudder at the thought of a Soriano-Escobar-Ward outfield.

From the rare vantage point of a home series victory, it's time to take stock: With this afternoon's win the Nats are 16-28, 12 games below .500, 10 games out of first in the NL East and just 4 games above the cellar dwellin' Florida Marlins. Those are all bad things. But I'm in the mood to be generous. (Enjoy it while it lasts, it'll be gone after we drop 2 of 3 to the 'Stros this week.)

Consider that the Nationals have almost a full pitching rotation on the DL right now (Patterson, Lawrence, Drese and Astacio.) Only Patterson and Astacio have any chance of pitching again this season. Add in the fact that we're missing our best setup man, our starting catcher, and last year's best power hitter. Hell, even factor in the loss of Cristian Guzman if you want. I doubt whether even competent front office and dugout management could make this team competitive this year.

So enjoy the smaller triumphs, the moral victories. Celebrate the cosmic justice of an Orioles loss. Savor Alfonso Soriano's monster bombs, knowing that each one will make him that much more valuable at the trade deadline. Mark the progress of Ryan Zimmerman, the best 21-year old in major league baseball. Marvel at the diamonds in the rough like Mike O'Connor. Maybe he's only getting by on guile and novelty right now. Maybe the second time through teams will figure him out and he'll be done. But in the meantime he's a hell of a good story, and one more reason to root, root, root for the home team.

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