Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hook, Line and Stinker

If the Nats faced Jorge Julio every night, we'd have the start of a dynasty on our hands. Dunno what Freddi Gonzalez sees in Julio, but he's obviously overvaluing "veteran presence" in the Marlins closer juggling game; five arms have recorded saves for the Fish this year and any of them would be superior options to Julio or overhyped arm Taylor Tankersley. Gonzalez should've left Tankersley in the game to pitch himself out of a jam, but better judgement doesn't always prevail at one o'clock in the morning when you're racing to finish a six hour game that should've been over three hours ago. Stars of the game in order:

1) Divine Providence
2) 3 Hour Rain Delay
3) Ryan Zimmerman

Bump Zimmerman up to 1st if you're feeling generous. His 9th inning walk-off grand slam is the reason the Nats put together back-to-back victories for the first time all season. Zimmerman has not been seeing good pitches this season with no protection in the line-up, but he crushed it in dramatic fashion. Time to add RFK to the list of venues for the Shakespeare in Washington Festival? Maybe not, but it feels good to get a break from The Comedy of Errors once in awhile. Some of the team's moms are purportedly appearing in a pre-game ceremony to commemorate Mother's Day this afternoon. They have a legit chance of sweeping the Marlins and taking the entire series. Unbelievable. And if not, they'll have plenty of shoulders to cry on.

Friday, April 27, 2007

We Will Rebuild Them, and Make Them Stronger

Time to clean house and send the veterans to the glue factory. The Nats can't win much, but they can't win at all with Brian Schneider in the line-up. The guy had a dreadful season behind the plate in '06, but a catching upgrade apparently wasn't in the plans for '07: the Nats went into the year with Schneider as the undisputed starter and Rule 5 pick Jesus Flores as the back-up. I want to see more of Flores and less of Schneider and much, much less of his butt-ugly catcher's mask. Who does this dude think he is - Olaf Kolzig? If history repeats itself, Schneider will rejuvinate himself with some other team in '08. Hey, it worked for Michael Barrett.

Having Schneider catch games while the team eats bad contracts isn't hurting the Nats, though. Handing the ball to Chad Cordero in the 9th, when the Nats actually find themselves with a save opportunity, might be. More specifically, it isn't helping Cordero's trade value. The Nats totally should have sold high (does no one in management have a fantasy league team on the side?) when the Red Sox were swinging on Cordero's nuts. Cordero looks shaky out there right now; he's not getting enough chances to practice his art -- and mowing 'em down in the 9th is definitely an art. My gut says not to trust him at all; the problem is that the team doesn't have a hot hand to pass the ball to. Yikes. What happens when the team trades Cordero for pennies and pocket lint after All-Star Break? Maybe Jon Rauch is better suited to a set-up role; maybe they're waiting for the return of Luis Ayala.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's Only Funny Until Someone Loses An Eye

There's losing and there's losing with dignity; one of these things is reflected in the standings, and the other stays in the hearts and the minds of fans. To the Nats credit, they managed to hang in there for 4 innings before sinking into a predictable rut -- Matt Chico escaped with one earned run on his line thanks to some appaling defense by Dmitri Young and Ron Belliard. Not that tossing 100 pitches in less than 5 innings is anything to take great pride in, but the shit didn't hit the proverbial fan until journeyman reliever Ray King entered in the 8th.

I think his name is Ray King 'cause the other team starts raking when he's on the mound. 2/3 of an inning, 3 walks and 4 earned runs eanred King last night's "King Goat" award. Prize: an inflamed shoulder. Anything to escape another nightmare like that. Here's the deal with King: he seems like he has actually been a pretty reliable presence over the course of his career, but the stats don't tell the full story:

1) The guy gives up way too many free trips to first base
2) Dude blew 6 saves in 0 save opportunities for St. Louis in '05
3) King averaged 80 games, but less than 60 innings during his best years

He's the very definition of a "situational lefty," which, with the sad state of the Nats rotation, is a luxury the team can't afford right now. That set-up works great if you can guarantee 5-6 innings from each of your starters, but the Nats need to dump this guy in favor of a swingman or someone who can throw heat for more than 1/3 of an inning without worrying about boo-boos. And now Acta's letting him take up space on the active roster instead of sending him to the DL -- at least the Phillies have been active on the waiver wire to combat early season blahs.

Monday, April 09, 2007

They Don't Know...

For better or worse, I moved to DC in June 2005. During the height of Washington Nationals mania, I wandered into a falafel shop and the guy behind the counter started ribbing me incessantly for wearing a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap and inciting the rest of the patrons in line to talk trash. It was as if I wandered into a Bronx pizza joint decked out in Red Sox gear. The Nats team cast such a strange spell on the entire city, at least until mid-August; still, baseball returning to Washington was the story in MLB that year.

Nats fans, if there are any left, don't know what it's like to lose. Pirates fans know what it's like to lose; 14 years of watching terrible teams take the field is, in a word, sobering. For the Nationals, 2006 was pretty much a smoke screen: Alfonso Soriano carried that team on his back. This year will be the true test of patience. Of course, the team's already averaging about 40% capacity so far, but the hypothetical ceiling's low and the hypothetical bottom is sort of like an endless pit. After this weekend's humiliating series, there's no doubt the Nats know what it's like to lose in a spectacular fashion. Acta's squad went 0-30 with runners in scoring position until Austin Kearns stemmed the bleeding in the 8th inning of Sunday's game. Back-to-back 7-1 losses against the low end of Arizona's rotation, followed by Livan Hernandez disgracing his former teammates by taking a no-hitter into the 6th innings.

Philly is phucking things up in spectacular fashion to start the season, too; the Nats actually have competition for the honor of worst team in the division. Expect Philadelphia to heat up somewhat when it doesn't count. The team has averaged 85 wins over the last six seasons. It's what they do. As Philadelphia arches towards mediocrity, the Nats are on a fast track towards ignominious immortality. This, my friends, is destiny...rewritten as a cosmic joke.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Me and Julio Down By Navy Yard

3 shortstops in 3 games, and D'Angelo Jimenez receiving a quickie call-up from AAA: guess the Josh Wilson experiment was an abject failure. Yesterday, Manny Acta fielded a line-up with Felipe Lopez playing his natural position and Ron Belliard shifting back to his natural position as 2B. Felipe's fuss over manning short during the spring was the mustard on the shit sandwich of this offseason: let's not forget the other guy who threated a kindler, gentler "Operation Shutdown" during the '06 season. Washington's streak of consecutive innings of running behind was snapped at 26...barely. There'll be plenty of time for more Herculean feats of ineptitude as the season drags on, but for now, Jorge Julio -- the worst closer in baseball -- gave the Washington NoNotNows the thrill of a hollow victory with 1/3 of a disastrous inning. The Marlins traded Yusmero Petit for this dude? Wow. He sucks. Back to Acta, who keeps using the term "experimenting" to describe his lineup cards. The Reds are 2-1 with a team hobbled by injuries; Acta needs to get better about thinking creatively. Or, uh, thinking.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lost and Naked in the City Again

See Screech. See Screech about to get slapped on the nuts after another dismal Nationals loss. See Screech hawking a homemade porno online to avoid foreclosure during the Nats 2008 season. Someone will have to take the fall, and Screech is the only Nationals mascot who doesn't have his picture in the National Portrait Gallery.

So maybe I was being a little hyperbolic in predicting a 0-162 season. That's Cleveland Spiders bad. The 2007 Washington Nationals are more like 1962 Mets bad. Ok, that's still too harsh: this year's Nats are, like, '63-65 Mets bad. This team will be lucky to take 60 games. The season's still young; after all, the Cardinals now sport the same 0-2 record and the Pirates are 2-0. But you know things are fucked when your star player (Ryan Zimmerman) is already giving interviews where he politely cautions fans to expect a whole lot o' losing going on. But what can you expect when your GM spent the entire offseason making sure that the minor league affiliates were fully-stocked with AAAA players?

Disheartening stat, courtesy ESPN.Com: Nats have been behind in every single inning they've played this season. Shawn Hill's crackerjack Livan Hernandez impression (spotting the other team 4 earned runs in the first inning) and the Keystone Kops defense didn't help. But that's actually Washington Generals bad.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

First in war, first in peace, last in place

Well, let's put it this way: everything was over with the ceremonial home opener pitch last season. At least Mark Lerner had the good sense to bar members of the Bush administration from getting on the field yesterday afternoon. This time out, the Nats waited five innings before declaring the 2007 season a lost cause: local boy done good Ryan Zimmerman made a spectacular play to retire Dontrelle Willis early on, which was overshadowed by a routine warning track grab center fielder Nook Logan made before exiting the game -- the kind of catch that kept Jim Edmonds on Baseball Tonight highlight reels. The Running Man's got guts -- and a knack for freaky injuries. Logan's trip to the DL opens up two distinct scenarios: either spring over-achiever Chris Snelling gets a fighting chance as an everyday player, or final 25-man roster cut Kory Castro's stay in the minors will be mercifully short.

I dunno, I was sort of looking forward to seeing what Manny Acta sees in Logan, but he'll be back before April turns into May. As for Cristian Guzman, possibly gone for the rest of season: that 4-year/ $16.8 million contract looks REALLY bad right about now. Also: John Patterson really needs a month or so in long relief to get his groove back, especially after throwing batting practice for 3 2/3 innings. With this starting rotation (time to place bets on when Pedro Astacio gets the call up from AAA), the Nats just don't have that luxury. Still interested in finding out whether Shawn Hill and Matt Chico can build on promising spring stats and eager to see whether Felipe Lopez can swipe 40 bases, but the Nats current record projects to a 0-162 finish. That sounds about right.