April 24, 2008

Boz: Ritzy New Digs Unnerve Crapbag Team

In General I regard WaPo's sometime baseball columnist Thomas Boswell as a benign older gent sitting on a sun-dappled bench vacantly watching the buses roll by. Sit down next to him and you may ocassionally be graced with a nugget of hard-earned wisdom amid the gentle flow of pleasant babble. I usually don't subject his columns to a hard read. But for some reason I couldn't let this one go by. Feel free to fisk along at home, it's been edited to fit my attention span. (Commentary in italics.)

New Stadium, New Pressure

Nationals Park is at a slightly different elevation than RFK, so there probably is some pressure differential. Fair enough.

By Thomas Boswell Thursday, April 24, 2008; E01

Time is an artificial construct. Also, must we really have the page number in the online version of the column?

In their old digs at RFK Stadium last season, in a subterranean world of science-fiction-size rodents, insects and fungi, the Nationals often were mortified by their surroundings but seldom miserable in their baseball.

It's true, the Nats never had guests over last season, they were too embarrassed. Fans rarely visited either. And I'm resisting the temptation to make a "science-fiction-size rodent" The Princess Bride joke. Also, Paul Lo Duca = ROUS.

Bonded by obscurity and comfortable with nonexistent expectations, they focused on their sport, played to their limits and delighted some of baseball's smallest crowds. "That was one of the most fun years I've ever had in baseball," Austin Kearns said last night.

Last year Austin hit 266/355/411 good for a 103 OPS+. He earned roughly $3.5M for the effort. This year his salary escalates to $5M. If he had fun then, he must be living the dream now.

Now, their lockers are lined with mink, their shower fixtures are made of platinum and that Gatorade bucket in their dugout is filled with champagne. Not really.

Cue Uncle Teddy Lerner: You're darn right not really! It's skunk, chrome-plated lead and Korbel.

But a walk through their world would make sheiks and sultans jealous. Yet life is hard and baseball suddenly a burden for the Nats, who lost again last night to the Mets, 7-2, extending their spring debacle to 16 losses in 20 games by a humongous margin of 43 runs.

I understand the logic of run differential, but would you feel that much better if they'd lost 16 of 20 by a margin of 20 runs? I wouldn't. This ain't the NHL, point differential isn't a tie-breaker.

Quickly, crowds at the new Nationals Park are filling to the top rows, with 32,780 on hand to see the Mets in Washington's 22nd game of the season; only 21,662 showed up at RFK for the Nats' 23rd game of last season, also against the Mets.

It's easy to fill to the top rows when you fill the stadium from the top down. How're those Presidential Seats coming, Stan?

Who knew the curse of the Midas touch applied to ballparks?

Besides Midas?

The Nats are surrounded with everything money can buy.

Except major league caliber starting pitching and a middle-of-the-order impact bat. But why quibble.

But some might trade it all for the .500 record they built in their last 128 games last season. As catcher Paul Lo Duca said recently of the Nats inept start, "A squirrel could do better."

Look, quotability is the one skill Paulie LoDown has left, I get that. But what does this even mean? Also, Paul Lo Duca = ROUS.

There's still a week left in April, but the suffering 6-16 Nats already have had two team meetings. No method of self-flagellation has been neglected.

I knew the whole papal visit charade was a cover for an Opus Dei team meeting.

[Section detailing Nats losses redacted for redundancy.]

[Section detailing Nats injuries redacted to fit in the time alloted.]

But the Nats' biggest problem is a complete heart-of-the-order clutch-hitting breakdown -- often a sign of a team coping poorly with pressure.

Even more often the sign of a bad team playing badly.

Last night included a prototypical mega-slump moment. Pitcher Tim Redding, of all people, hit a 390-foot two-run double off the center field wall off Earth's best pitcher, Johan Santana, for a 2-1 fourth-inning lead. With one out in the top of the next inning, Redding walked the eighth hitter, then also walked Santana when he was just trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt and give away an out.

Should've called up Levale Speigner for the spot start. This is the only reason he's still in the organization, right?

A team without demons kicks the dirt and moves on. A team in full gag mode thinks, "Uh oh, here we go again." And there they went, soon tied, quickly behind, then so dejected as to be barely ambulatory by the late innings.

We have demons? We traded science-fiction-size rodents (Paul Lo Duca = ROUS) for Demons?! It's a brand-new building!!! Stupid, useless papal exorcism. And somebody get HOK and Clark Hunt on the horn about the warranty. Was this thing built on an alternative nightclub burial ground?

Expectations have increased around the Nats in recent months, partly from the luxury of their surroundings, but also from a growing sense of pressure that runs through the whole organization; demands for results, not just effort, have been raised. Soon, the internal demands of this franchise will be for a contender, nothing less.

Disclaimer: Pressure to perform does not apply to ticket vendors, concessionaires, advertising agency or General Manager.

"This team needs to believe it is good. You have to start every season wanting to go to the playoffs and expecting to be in contention," Lo Duca said. "You need to be cocky. We're going to have some fun this year.

Cue Jim Mora: "Playoffs? Playoffs!?!" Also note, "this year" includes off season.

Once we get over the hump, we're going to enjoy this new park.

The hump = Paul Lo Duca (= ROUS).

But we've given away four or five games already. We have nothing to lose. We should play that way. The worst thing you can do is play not to lose."

I'm no expert, but playing to lose sounds like it would be worse than playing not to lose. Just ask Shoeless Joe Jackson.

"The days pile up on top of each other." Manager Manny Acta said. "I know how hard the players are trying. I can handle it." But he worries about his young players. They are trying too hard, while his veterans sometimes seem flat.

Obvious typo. Clearly Boz meant to say the veterans sometimes seem FAT.

How can a team try to do too much, care too much for its own good, yet also seemed enervated at times. Aren't those contradictory? Third base coach Tim Tolman has pondered the problem.

So that's what he's doing over there, working on a correspondence degree in Philosophy. That actually explains quite a bit.

"Shrinks say that depression is anger turned inwards," I said.

And a doughnut with no hole is a danish.

"That sounds like us," Tolman said with a bitter chuckle. And he'd know. Last week, Tolman got a runner thrown out at home plate with the Nats six runs behind. Even the third base coach is trying too hard.

By this standard Tim Tolman has been trying too hard since April 2007.

The list of self-incriminating quotes by the Nats this month would include almost the entire roster. "I let these guys down," Jason Bergmann said before he was sent to the minors. "Boil it down, I didn't do my job," King said last night, even though he really was beaten by two squibbers and a Zimmerman throwing error.

Again, Boz is clearly misremembering. There's no way Ray King said, "Boil it down". "Deep fry it", maybe.

The Nats have nothing for which to despise themselves.

AHEM. Jim Bowden? Also, Paul Lo Duca = ROUS.

Their park is special. But so are 20 others. Crowds are getting big.

And the American obesity epidemic has what to do with this column?

Perhaps it just seems startling and new to this franchise because it's been out of the mainstream for so long, both in Montreal and RFK. Starting a season 6-16 isn't a capital offense, even in Washington.

9-12 got Wayne Krivsky cashiered. I'm just sayin...

It would be nice if the Nats simply could go back in the memories to their near-perfect attitude of '07, when defeat didn't bother them, every win was a joy and they just wanted to prove they didn't deserve the disrespect of 120-loss prediction.

Good news. They'll be getting those 120-loss predictions back any day now.

"Once our offense comes back to life, I think everything is going to roll," Acta said.

Stay the course. It's simple, it's catchy. I like it.

But when will that teamwide case of athletic depression -- a condition baseball simply calls a slump -- come to an end? In April, with plenty of time to make amends? Or after a whole season is buried neck deep? That's for the Nationals to decide.

Solution: Less clubhouse candy. More clubhouse Prozac! Warning: May cause poor K/BB ratios. Consult a sabermetrician before use.

1 comment:

Ironic Goat said...

That demons trade line was wonderful.