So it's been almost two weeks since I last blogged about the Nats. Truth be told, I just didn't feel like doing it. Miserable weather and even more miserable losses by a team in search of itself. Just very uninspiring for me.
The Nationals finished the month of May with an 0-6 roadtrip, losing three straight to the New York Mets and then three straight to the Philadelphia Phillies.
They came home and began the month of June with a victory, beating the San Francisco Giants 10-6, then had another rain postponement and played their first day/night true doubleheader on Thursday, June 4th, which also had it's share of rain and delays.
The Nats fired their longtime pitching coach, randy St. Claire, who had been with the club since the beginning (and before, having worked for the Montreal Expos) and replaced him by promoting their AAA Syracuse pitching coach Steve McCatty.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Randy Johnson celebrated his milestone 300th career victory by beating the Nats on June 4th, during the afternoon game of the double-header. At least the Nationals didn't have to endure the ignominy of experiencing this in San Francisco, as they did when Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's career home run record. Then the Nats lost the night game as well.
So the Nats took 1 of 3 from the Giants, and then 1 of three from the visiting New York Mets.
They won the Saturday night game, 7-1. June 6th, 2009 will be remembered by most as the 65th anniversary of D-Day, but Nationals fans will remember it as Nats starter John Lannan's first career complete game, throwing only 96 pitches over 9 innings. The Nats won 7-1 and had home runs from Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn, and Elijah Dukes. That's a game that I would have loved to attended but, alas, my ticket plan didn't include that night. The weather was pretty sweet, too. Not to take away anything from the Nats, but Mets starter John Maine had something of an off night, which helped.
The next day, however, the Mets struck right back and took advantage of Nats starter Craig Stammen's horrible first inning. Stammen did his best Cabrera imitation, throwing wild pitches, and the Mets took immediate advantage, going up 5-0 before the Nationals even got to the plate. The Nats lost 7-0, and instrumental in their defeat was the starting pitching of former-National Livan Hernandez, and former National (and one of my favorite Nationals of their short history) Ryan Church. Former National catcher Brian Schneider also did his part to hurt the Nats. It sure still hurts to see the three of them wearing New York Mets uniforms.
I did have tickets for the Sunday game, and the weather was okay, but I was seriously achy from a long workday on Saturday, and I just had a bad feeling about how the game would play out. Little did I know how right I'd be.
I've said all along that I'm not a "fair weather" Nationals fan, and I'm not (hey, I still ahve season tickets, don't I?), but I go to the games to have fun and enjoy myself. I don't relish long rain delays, especially on a work night, and I don't relish being outnumbered by Philly fans or Mets fans all the time when those teams come to visit. The Nationals are on pace to lose 118 games right now, and it's just painful to see, especially after last season's 102 loss campaign.
I'll go to at least one of the Cincinnati games this week, provided the weather isn't completely awful.
I just hope that the college draft on Tuesday turns out to be a great one for the Nats, a red-letter day in their history. We shall see.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
So it's been almost two weeks since I last blogged about the Nats. Truth be told, I just didn't feel like doing it. Miserable weather and even more miserable losses by a team in search of itself. Just very uninspiring for me.
Monday, May 25, 2009
A tough week for the Nationals, and a dismal homestand which ended on a nice note.
Nationals vs. Pirates
The Nats only took one of four games, avoiding a sweep but they missed some chances.
Monday, May 18th: Pirates 12, Nationals 7
The Nats 2007 first-round pick Ross Detweiler's debut was a good one, striking out six batters and having no walks. After the game, there was a question as to whether or not Detweiler would go back to the minors or have another start. Fortunately, the club decided to keep him around.
Nick Johnson had a 3 RBI night and was walked three times. Both he and Ryan Zimmerman had homers.
The Nats were down 3-0, then went up 5-3 in the 5th, only to allow five runs in the 6th. They had a chance to stay with the Pirates, being down 9-6 going into the 9th inning, but then they fell further behind, allowing three runs.
Garrett Mock got the blown save and was awarded the loss.
Tuesday, May 19th: Pirates 8 Nationals 5
Shairon Martis had a shaky outing, but the Nats stuck with the Pirates and tied things up 5-5 in the 9th on Adam Dunn's 12th home run of the season. Sadly, they lost in the 10th inning when reliever Joe Beimel walked three batters and allowed three runs. Beimel just hasn't been the same since he returned from the disabled list. I hope that he gets it together soon.
Wednesday, May 20th: Pirates 2, Nationals 1 (THE 100th GAME AT NATIONALS PARK)
I went to this game with high hopes. The weather was flat-out GORGEOUS for baseball, clear blue sky, 75 mild degrees and low humidity. Honest-to-goodness, this is the sort of night that you just pine for over the winter, dreaming of.
Hard to believe that they've already played 100 games here at Nationals Park. I guess 100 games isn't so many, but it seems like the park just opened yesterday to me.
John Lannan pitched another good game, allowing only one run, striking out five and only walking two.
The game was tied, 1-1, going into the 9th inning, and the Nats brought in Joel Hanrahan, who has struggled mightily all spring, and he threw an astounding 35 pitches in the 9th inning, 23 for strikes, but the one fateful pitch that he threw went wild and allowed the Pirates the go-ahead run from third.
At least the weather was nice.
Thursday, May 21st: Nationals 5, Pirates 4
Finally, the Nats notch a victory and avoid a second, consecutive sweep.
25 year-old rookie Craig Stammen had a good start, and the Nats may have found their fifth starter for the rest of the season, since Scott Olsen is on the D/L and Daniel Cabrera is banished to the bullpen.
The Nats briefly lost the lead in the 7th inning, but regained it in the 8th for good. Joel Hanrahan had a pleasingly uninteresting top of the 9th to nail down the victory.
Nationals vs. Orioles - "The Battle of the Beltways"
The Nationals have a pretty even record in Interleague play, and last year they split their two series with the Baltimore Orioles. The Nationals are trying to turn the Orioles series into a big, regional rivalry, but as former Orioles and Nationals Manager Frank Robinson remarked a couple of years ago, unless both clubs are winning, then there really can't be much of a rivalry. Still, Nats fans get appropriately irritated at Orioles fans who disrespect the National Anthem when performed in our park, but at least they come and spend a lot of money there.
Friday, May 22nd: Orioles 4, Nationals 2
Jordan Zimmermann pitched another beauty, striking out seven, walking one, and only allowing two runs. The Nats were tied 2-2 and took that situation all the way to 12 innings (in almost regulation time, though). Jason Bergman, Ron Villone and Joe Beimel all performed well out of the bullpen, but the Orioles managed to get to Kip Wells in the 12th, scoring two runs.
Ryan Zimmerman's 2-run homer was pretty much the highlight of the game for the Nats.
Saturday, May 23rd: Orioles 2, Nationals 1
Ross Detweiler got his second start and he performed well, striking out four and only allowing one run, though he did walk four batters. With the exception of Cristian Guzman's solo homer, there just wasn't much Nats firepower, though they did have seven hits.
The one, great Nationals highlight of the game will be Centerfielder Justin Maxwell's leaping snag of a long fly ball by Oriole Adam Jones to rob him of a certain home run. "J-Max" used all of his 6'5" body and long arms to time his leap to the centerfield wall and reach over the wall to snag the ball at the precise moment. A great moment for him, and one of the Nats defensive plays of the year.
I went to this game, and a personal highlight for me was simply getting to run into so many friends, including beer vendors Neal and Howard. Anyone who has followed this blog for more than one season knows who they are, but in short, they are two of my favorite ballpark people. I've run into Howard at Orioles Park and Raven Stadium, and I've encountered Neal at FedEx Field. They are just great guys who I always enjoy talking to. Along with Coach Ron Simms, Ellie and Roy, Susan, Mr. Charles, James, Ed, and so many others, they make my games a lot more fun.
You know, I still haven't attended a Nats win this season. I think that they've lost every game that I've gone to. Maybe I'm short-term-memory-impaired, but I just can't remember one.
Sunday, May 24: Nationals 8 Orioles 5
The Nats avoided the sweep with a big game by Adam Dunn, who had the first 6 R.B.I. game of his career, and despite a shaky start from Shairon Martis, who allowed seven hits, five runs, and walked two. He also allowed one home run and only struck out two.
The Bullpen of Ron Villone, Joe Beimel and Joel Hanrahan was essentially perfect, allowing no hits no walks and therefore no runs.
Adam Dunn had two home runs, the second being a Grand Slam thanks, in part, to some clever managing by Nats Manager Manny Acts, who with men on first and second, decided to have Cristian Guzman sacrifice to move the runners and then gambled that the Orioles would walk Ryan Zimmerman to get to Dunn. Dunn responded just as every Nats fan hoped that he would. Considering that both Guzman and Zimmerman were both hitting over .300 and Dunn was hitting in the .260's (I believe) this was a particularly gutsy move which paid off.
The Nats are 13-30 and are done at home for the month of May. Now they're off to New York to take on the Mets
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/25/2009 03:10:00 PM
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Lackluster. Just lackluster.
Today the Nationals lost their 4th in a row to the Philadelphia Phillies, 8-6. The Nationals led the game from the second inning through the 7th, but a bizarre error in the 8th inning led to three Phillies runs and their victory.
Despite the Phillies starter, Chan Ho Park, exiting the game in the second inning (having thrown an absurdly high 63 pitches). He was charged with five runs and had four walks. I thought that this was good news for the Nats, knock out the opposing teams starter and work on their weakened bullpen. Sadly, it didn't work out that way.
The Nats starter, Jordan Zimmermann, had another shakey start, allowing five runs and 3 walks, but composed himself and struck out 6.
The Nats just cannot seem to hold a lead. Today's was another 8th inning collapse. I won't even go into Jésus Colomes bizarre throwing error which cost the Nats the lead. It's just too depressing to discuss.
In the bottom of the 4th inning, Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble on MASN were discussing the President's Race, and "Teddy"'s continued woes in that department. Carpenter said something to the effect of, "It gets harder to watch every day".
He could have been speaking of the Nationals continued losing.
Well, so long to the Philadelphia Phillies (and their fans...) for a while, and hello to the team from the other end of Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose record isn't nearly as good as their friends from across the state. Ross Detweiler will take the mound for the Nationals. It should be a good game.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 05:07:00 PM
There really ought to be more of a sense of rivalry between the Nats and the Phillies. After all, they are our closest National League rivals, and their record against the Nats over the past five seasons is seriously dominating. The Nats have been able to play spoiler to the Phillies in some recent years September games, but I suppose a real rivalry, such as the Phillies have with the New York Mets, won't happen until the Nationals are much more competative. It is certainly a much more natural rivalry than the Nationals have with the Baltimore Orioles. That "rivalry" is a tad contrived, as it is really more of a battle for the hearts and minds of regional baseball fans. It made more sense when the American League Washington Senators played Baltimore frequently each season. The Orioles have a longer and more storied history than the Nationals, they play in what is widely regarded as one of the premier ballparks in baseball, and they get frequent visits from the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, two of the oldest and most popular sports franchises in the world, which guarantees them some sellouts and lots of interest from the D.C. area. I would hope that the Nationals presence in Washington, D.C. allows fans of other popular and storied National League franchises, such as the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, who happen to live in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia or elsewhere within a two hour or so drive, the chance to see their teams in person.
So the Philadelphia Phillies, who are already 6-2 versus the Nats this season (as I type this, the Nats are leading the Phillies 6-5 in the bottom of the 7th) are the most natural choice for a rivalry. Once the Nationals start winning, and start selling more season tickets, that will help to keep Nationals Park from feeling like "Citizen's Bank South".
(Incidentally, Bob Carpenter on MASN just showed a graphic which demonstrated that in terms of average, runs per game, home runs, and extra base hits so far between these two clubs in 9 games this season, the Nationals stack up very well against the Phillies. Yet the lopsided disparity continues.)
It isn't any wonder that the Phillies fans overrun our ballpark. Team President Stan Kasten is savvy enough to know that a ticket in Philadelphia is hard to come by, especially since the Phillies are the defending World Series Champions, so he's encouraged Phillies fans (and fans of other teams) to come to Nationals Park and spend their money there and fill some seats. Kasten took some criticism for that but, really, it's a smart business move. Our NBA Washington Wizards (née Bullets) were marketed that way for years - "Come see Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers", or "See Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls", or "Watch Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics". The appeal of the other teams was greater than that of the home team.
Everybody loves a winner, especially in this, the most highly politicized town in the country, so until the Nationals lead the National League East, we can expect more of the same.
How will the Nationals achieve this? Primarily through pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching. They have some good young arms in their system, and are bringing up more. They are bringing one of their best young prospects, Ross Detweiler, up to begin the Pirates series tomorrow evening. I hope that he earns a rotation spot.
I didn't intend this to be a roundabout way to bring up presumptive #1 college draftee Stephen Strasberg, but it's as good a time for me to weigh in on the Nationals expected decision to draft him as any.
I am 100% in favor of them drafting Strasberg. They need to draft him, offer him whatever Strasberg's agent, Scott Boras, asks for (supposedly 6 years, 50 million dollars) and get him signed. He could be up with the Nationals for a game or two in September, far too late to really help them but enough time to spark fan interest in off-season ticket sales.
Top pitchers put fans in the seats. I still regret not trying harder to see the Nationals/Astros game at R.F.K. a couple of years ago when Roger Clemens was here. Sure, they beat us, but Clemens would have been worth the agony of the defeat just to see him pitch.
Strasberg has had an amazing college career and Olympic stint. He won't need years in AA or AAA to prepare for the majors. If his signing could increase fan attendance at home every five days or so by even 10%, wouldn't that be worth the cost?
I know that better baseball minds than mine have cautioned against drafting Strasberg. It has been pointed out that no college pitcher drafted #1 has gone to the Hall of Fame. But things change. Exceptions are made. Chances are taken, gambles are done. I think that Strasberg is worth the risk, if for no other reason than the Lerner family and their partners have to demonstrate to the fans their willingness to spend money on quality players. They cannot risk getting the reputation of being "cheap" owners. They are building conservatively and cautiously (perhaps too cautiously for some) but they are in the business of building and when something is being built for permenance, it pays to be careful and cautious. It's cheaper and better to do things right the first time. I would much rather have a champion built well, which is competative for years and years than one which is bought and built through pricey free agents, which might collapse soon after (i.e. Florida Marlins model in the '90's).
Then we can really take it to those pesky Phillies and let the rivalry truly begin.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 04:15:00 PM
I was looking forward to returning to the ballpark tonight. You heard me correctly. Despite the losses, there's still magic for me in attending baseball games. It was Saturday night, I was meeting up with a friend, and it was "Jackie Robinson Day", with every player wearing Robinson's #42 and fans wearing #42 white and blue buttons.
The forecast had been for rain at various times of the day, and it had rained briefly after the 1:05 game and before 6:00. I was starting to think that team president Stan Kasten was working his meteorological mojo again, but his magic wore off around 9:20 in the top of the 6th inning as what seemed like a monsoon arrived and halted play for the night.
I found my buddy Myron over at The Bullpen across the street. There was live music there, but the rain was coming down, so the tent was completely packed, Despite that, there were plenty of people who looked as though they were having fun. Sadly, most of them looked like rowdy Phillies fans. I guess I can't blame them for being cocky - their team is the reigning World Series Champions, and they'd just beaten the Nats earlier in the day, and the previous night, but I cannot use the word "gracious" to describe them.
We entered the ballpark through the Centerfield Plaza and went to find people we knew. Our friend Neal, a beer vendor, wouldn't be there as he was working the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico racetrack in Maryland earlier. We found our friend Ellie, and spent some nice moments catching up with her (and drying off in the process) Ellie is a complete sweetheart and she always tells me the nicest things about the people she works with. She really loves her job, and whatever else anyone criticizes the Nationals organization for, they cannot convince me that the club isn't stocked with decent, kind, hard-working folks. For some time now, Ellie has labored without the benefit of knowing what was going on during the game unless she heard the crowd roar or something like that. Back at R.F.K. stadium, she had T.V's around her to keep track, but she hasn't had one at the new ballpark. That finally changed, and she has a nice flatscreen T.V. to keep up with what's going on. Very kind of the powers-that-be to provide that for her, she deserves it.
We ran into some other friends and chatted with them as well. I looked for our old buddy Howard, beer vendor extraoirdinaire, and eventually I saw him, but wasn't able to go and chat with him. He left when the rain hit.
The game itself was pretty good through five innings, with the Nationals trailing 7-5, they'd rallied to put a scare into the Phillies and their fans. In the top of the 6th inning, though, the Phillies looked as though they might break the game wide open, as they had the bases loaded and no outs when the rain storm arrived around 9:20. Myron and I hung around until about 10:15 when we decided to leave and I was going to drive him home. The game was called at 10:52, so we made the right decision to leave. One always worries that such decisions are premature and hasty. I'd have been mortified (though elated) if play had resumed and the Nationals continued to rally and win.
Starter Daniel Cabrera has had an awful spring. He's started eight games, and is 0-5. Manager Manny Acta believes that Cabrera is improving, but he's still had problems with his control (I think he still leads the National League in wild pitches so far this season, but perhaps not any longer).
I realize that I haven't been saying much (if anything) about the opposing players, and that is an oversight, but really, most of them I don't know enough about to comment on them intelligently, but I can say this: The Phillies Raul Ibañez is this season's Nats-killer. His teammate Ryan Howard is bad enough, with all of the homers that he hits against the Nats, but Ibañez is the Nats reigning nemesis.
Thanks to my friends and "summer family", even when the Nats lose, my Saturday nights can still be special.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 03:15:00 PM
I had tickets for this game, a 1:05 makeup game of the April 15th rain game, but as usual, I had to work. I gave my tickets to a friend, though.
I didn't miss much, except a late Ryan Zimmerman homer and an 8th inning three-run rally.
Starter Scott Olsen allowed six runs (five earned) and it turns out he was pitching injured, with shoulder and ankle problems. I have to respect Olsen's work ethic and dedication. He knew that he had to pitch as long as he could to spare the bullpen, which had been depleted the previous night, and there was still a night game to be played. Sadly for Olsen, he is now on the D/L.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 02:59:00 PM
This was a nice little battle as the Nats and Phillies traded the lead, and it looked as though the game would come down to the bottom of the 9th as the Nats, trailing by two, tied the game 6-6 on a Willie Harris slicer down into the right-field corner, forccing extra innings.
Unfortunately, this is where the weakness of the Nats bullpen became apparent. They managed to hold the Phillies scoreless in the 10th and 11th, but the wheels came off of the bus in the 12th as the Phillies scored 4 runs and the Nats couldn't score.
Starter John Lannan only allowed three runs, and one walk, and struck out two. He pitched well enough to win, though.
*Sigh* Welcome home.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 02:48:00 PM
For my non-local friends and family, the summary of the third stage of the Nats road trip last week.
Game 1, May 11th: Giants 11, Nationals 7
Zimmerman crushed, extending his streak by going 4 for 5 with 4 RBI's, Cabrera came unraveled, fifteen hits, six walks and one costly Josh Willingham error.
Game 2, May 12th: Giants 9, Nationals 7
Zimmerman pushed his streak to 30 games, Nick Johnson drove in five runs, Nats rallied from being down 5-1 to lead 7-5 only to collapse in the 9th with Joe Beimel unable to get the save. Jordan Zimmermann didn't have a great game, allowing 5 runs and walking two, but he did strike out eight batters and pitched well enough for the team to win.
Game 3, May 13th: Nationals 6, Giants 3
As previously noted, a bittersweet end to a rough road trip as the Nats win to end on a high note but Ryan Zimmerman's hitting streak halted at 30 games. I give MAJOR props to the San Francisco Giants fans in attendance for giving Zimmerman a standing ovation and on top of their team losing. Stay classy, San Francisco, you fans embody the fine sportsmanship to which fans of all sports should. I don't like to dwell upon this, but I can think of a couple of major league cities where Zimmerman would NEVER have received such an honor, especially if the home team lost. The Giants Barry Zito did what so many other opposing pitchers had failed to do and that is contain Zimmerman. Of course, Zimmerman was also walked twice, but his hits never made it out of the infield.
Nats starter Shairon Martis, "The Big Wow from Curaçao" (catchy, isn't it?) extended his record to 5-0, Nick Johnson had four hits, Elijah Dukes had three RBI's.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/17/2009 02:21:00 PM
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I haven't had the time to encapsulate the Giants series from this week, but I hope to do that tomorrow.
The sad news was, of course, the end of Ryan Zimmerman's hitting streak, which stopped at 30 games. Zimmerman was walked twice in the last game, and never got the ball out of the infield. He grounded into a double play but eventually made it to first base on a fielder's choice, I believe, so he didn't get credit for a hit. I cannot be certain about this for several reasons:
1) I tried to watch the game (it was my day off) on MASN, and the signal was horrendous. The picture and sound kept going out. I went to the MASN website and complained, but they replied that Comcast wasn't reporting any problems in my area. I don't think that it was a Comcast problem because all of my other channels were fine.
2) So, I went to Nationals.com and selected the gameday audio. It was nice to listen to Charlie and Dave, but my browser kept crashing and eventually, it informed me that I'd logged in too many times in a short period of time so it was locking me out - D'oh!
3) I haven't had time to read the game reports (...blush...)
Oh, the good news? The Nats won, so they ended the roadtrip on a nice note.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/14/2009 08:56:00 PM
I just received an emailed press release from the folks who are opening and operating The Bullpen, just outside Nationals Park. It is opening Friday, May 15th at 5:00.
Located at the corner of N St. and Half St. SE. it will be open from 2 hours before game time until midnight. For those of you who use the Navy Yard Metro stop to go to the ballpark, you won't be able to miss it when you walk down Half Street towards the Centerfield Gate entrance.
According to the press release, "...(The Bullpen) will be the ONLY option outside of the ballpark for fans who want to come early and soak in the baseball atmosphere. The Bullpen offers interactive sports games for children sponsored by Under Armour and Headfirst Camps, great local food vendors including Rocklands (www.rocklands.com) & Surfside (www.surfsidedc.com/www/), a beer garden sponsored by Bud Light, and live music."
I think that this is exciting news. Finally, there is someplace in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark to go either before or after the games. It sounds like a great next step in the rehabilitation of the ballpark district.
I hope to check it out for myself this weekend.
More information at: http://www.thebullpendc.com/www/
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/14/2009 08:42:00 PM
Sunday, May 10, 2009
3-game weekend wrapup; Two out of three 'ain't bad as Nats win first road series against Diamondbacks
The Nationals played a really entertaining series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix this weekend. The Nats took the first two games and had more than a sporting chance at winning the Sunday game, but the sweep was not to be.
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman continued his hitting streak, now at 28 games. To put this in historical perspective, Zimmerman is now precisely at the halfway point to tying New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, which he accomplished in 1941. It has long been considered one of the most unassailable records in sports. While I'm not getting my hopes up that Zimmerman will tie or top DiMaggio (since there are too many variables involved, from weather to team rules*), it is my hope that he gets the streak to at least 30, to get on most hitting streak lists of note, and I'd be happy if he got to 37 to get ahead of Washington Senator Gene DeMontreville (who had a 36-game streak in 1896-97. I'm sure that I'd settle for him tying or beating Washington Senator Heinie Manush, who had a 33-game streak in 1933.
(*I hope for Manager Manny Acta's sake, as well as Zimmerman's, that Zimmerman isn't late to a team meeting or function for the duration of this streak. Acta would have to choose between caving in and allowing Zimmerman to play and losing credibility with the team, or keeping his hard line and not start him for a game, and crushing the hopes of of the fans. The fallout from that is just too much to imagine.)
Okay - onto the games.
Game 1, Friday May 8th: Nats 5, Diamondbacks 4.
This game was murder on me. I have to be at work early on Saturdays, so a Friday night game, especially a west coast game, takes a lot out of me, ending as they do after 1:00 a.m. eastern time.
The Nats came back from being down 1-0 to go up 4-1, then 4-2, then 5-2 and held on as the D-Backs mounted their comeback. Jésus Flores and Adam Dunn both had homers, starter Shairon Martis got the win, and Kip Wells got a save.
Game 2, Saturday May 9th: Nats 2, Diamondbacks 1.
Starter John Lannan got his second win and kept the D-Backs off of the scoreboard for his six innings, and the D-Backs didn't score their one run until the bottom of the 9th, which added a thrilling, if horrible, aspect to the game if you're a Nats fan. Adam Dunn went long again, a homer that hit 50 feet above left-centerfield. If he'd hit that at Nationals Park, I believe that it would have landed in the Red Loft, or on the plaza. Ryan Zimmerman also went deep, so between him and Dunn, the two of them accounted for all of the Nats scoring. The bullpen held, and Joel Hanrahan got the save.
Game 3, Sunday May 10th (Mother's Day): Diamondbacks 10, Nats 8.
Despite 13 hits, including four home runs (two of which were on consecutive plate appearances, from Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham), the Nationals were undone by two errors and a faltering bullpen. Despite gaining the lead twice, the Nats allowed 17 hits by the D-Backs.
Adam Dunn's two homers pushed his season total to 11, putting him behind only St. Louis's Albert Pujols (who has 12) for the moment. He is a lot of fun to watch hit. If only his defense were as impressive. Willingham continues to make the most of his opportunities, with his good defense and his two, count 'em, two homers.
Now, on to San Francisco and the Giants, currently a better team than the Diamondbacks and only a little bit worse than the division-leading Dodgers. The Nats will need to make sure that they have more than "flowers in their hair"** to take two of three in the City by the Bay.
In other news, presumptive Nationals #1 pick in the June college draft (one month away) Stephen Strasberg, threw the only no-hitter of his college career in his final college start, against Air Force. Nationals assistant-G.M. Mike Rizzo said that, if the draft were today, Strasberg would be their pick, but that a lot can happen in 30 days. Über-sports agent Scott Boras is expected to ask for a six-year, $50-million contract for Strasberg, which would set a new high for a #1 drafted player.
(** '60's Scott Mackenzie song. Look it up.)
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/10/2009 09:01:00 PM
Friday, May 8, 2009
In the City of the Angels, on the National Day of Prayer, it was the Nationals fans whose prayers were answered. To the skeptics (of which I was one, early on), it started off as the "Nationals Day of not-having-a prayer".
This night's game promised to be interesting even before it began. Future Hall-of-Famer and perennial All-Star Manny Rameirez of the Los Angeles Dodgers received a 50-game suspension from MLB for a pharmacological offense (performance-enhancing drug) discovered in Spring Training. He would not face the Nationals tonight, which was a lucky break for them.
Nats starter, Jordan Zimmermann had the rockiest start you could imagine. He allowed a Grand Slam and two other runs in the 1st inning, but he kept his composure and didn't allow another run throughout the rest of his start.
I thought this game was over at the end of the first, but I wanted to see what the Nats could do.
They kept battling, and put one run on in the 6th and then 3 runs in the 7th, and I began to wonder, "Gee, maybe they can tough this one out and tie things up." Little did I realize that, in the 8th inning, they would score 6 runs and bat around the order on their way to rallying back from their early hole.
Things got scary again at the bottom of the 8th when reliever Joe Beimel allowed one run and then filled the bases with two out, but Beimel battled Dodger Juan Pierre with 2 out, and with a 1-2 count, managed to get Pierre to chop one close enough for 1B Nick Johnson to toss the ball to Beimel, racing Pierre to first base to end the inning.
I don't think that I've ever held my breath for that long before. *PHEW!*
My heart was almost oxygen-starved again as closer Kip Wells struggled in the 9th and almost blew it, allowing two runs.
Oh, and Ryan Zimmerman pushed his hitting streak to 25 games. For their part, the Dodgers' Major League record of undefeated home games to begin a season was halted at 13. It was the Nationals first win in Los Angeles in three years.
Josh Willingham was one of several hitting heroes tonight, but he also made a key defensive play where it looked like he'd injured himself. Perhaps it was fitting that he recorded the final out to this 3.5+ hour slugfest. It was truly a team win. 18 hits!
What a game. How the heck am I supposed to get any decent sleep when my heart is still beating so fast?
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/08/2009 01:08:00 AM
These west-coast games are always a little tough on me. I began watching it late because @#$& Comcast had their schedules all screwed-up. They said that the game was to begin on MASN at 10:30, and instead, it was on MASN2, which you would never know, because the Comcast listing had the time slot for "Tonight from Washington". I've complained about this before - what IS the problem, Comcast or MASN? I blame Comcast.
Things started off well enough with Daniel Cabrera pitching, but then came the flurry of walks and the wheels falling off of the bus. The Nats lost ugly, 10-3.
The only good part was Ryan Zimmerman extending his hitting streak to 24 games.
The Dodgers kept their undefeated-at-home-this-season streak alive as well. I believe that they are sitting upon a Major League record.
And so it goes.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/08/2009 01:01:00 AM
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Thank goodness that there are no ties in baseball, but I feel sorry for the poor fans who sat through this afternoon's see-saw slugfest between the Nationals and the Astros, only to have the rain postpone the game. It will be made up, right where it left off, when the Nationals travel to Houston this summer. How surreal will THAT be? I'd love to know what the rules are in this situation. Do they play it as though it did not end, i.e. all players taken out are still out of the game? I hope I get to see that on MASN.
Most importantly, Ryan Zimmerman kept his hitting streak going, now at 23 games.
The Nats started off down 1-0, then went up 2-1 on an Elijah Dukes home run off of the so-called "Fred Astaire" of starting pitchers, Roy Oswalt. In the 5th, the Astros re-gained the lead 3-2, then went up 5-2. In the 6th, the Nats re-gained the lead 6-5 on walks, then going up 8-5. In the 7th, the Astros tied it up 8-8, then went ahead 9-8 in the 8th. The Nats went ahead 10-9, but couldn't hold it in the 9th, allowing the Astros to tie it up 10-10. Six lead changes and a LOT of walks! Just crazy.
Fortunately, the Nats outlasted Houston starter, Oswalt, one of the best starters in baseball over the past 8 years. By staying in the game for the duration of his start, the Nats helped their own cause greatly and were able to take advantage of the weak Astro bullpen.
Can't wait to see the end of this one in several weeks. Man, I hope they finally win it!
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/06/2009 11:20:00 PM
Didn't get to see much of this game, due to business interference, but from what I DID see and read about later, this was the best game the Nationals have played all season, a come-from-behind thriller to anyone who attended the game.
John Lannan FINALLY got his first win, and Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak (in no small part, thanks to 4 hits) to 22 games.
To come back from being down 4-2 to win 9-4 is pretty impressive for this team right now. So glad to see it. I hope they keep it going.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/06/2009 11:13:00 PM
Monday, May 4, 2009
Steady rain kept the game from being played today, the second rain-out of the season so far.
The good news is, because of Shairon Martis's complete game on Saturday, the bullpen has had two days off and should be completely rested to take on the Astros who come into town tonight.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/04/2009 12:49:00 AM
Another Saturday afternoon game that I had to miss due to work. Thank goodness for D.V.R.'s
I got to miss Shairon Martis throw a complete game, which is a first in the Manny Acta era. Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 21 games. Adam Dunn had a 3-run homer.
The Nats won, 6-1, and by all accounts, Martis dominated the Cardinals. The cynic in me says, "Yeah, but they were resting Albert Pujols." Still, a win's a win.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/04/2009 12:17:00 AM
Friday, May 1, 2009
Newsflash: Jordan Zimmermann is human. Film at 11:00.
Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Nats rookie pitcher Jordan Zimmermann lost his first major league game. It wasn't really his fault, he wasn't making mistakes, but the veteran St. Louis Cardinals, led by The Best Player in Baseball (Albert Pujols) weren't going to be stymied by a rookie pitcher. He allowed 5 runs on 8 hits in 5 2/3 innings and 101 pitches, and didn't walk anybody.
There was a little excitement on the Nationals side, as Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 20 games, Willie "Home Run" Harris hit a 2-run homer, and Jesus "Trip" Flores hit his second triple in as many nights.
I had tickets for this game, but I didn't go. I usually have to work early on Saturdays, so Friday night games are always suspect, especially if there is a chance for a rain delay (thunderstorms were called for up until several hours ago) or a long game with extra innings.
Weird thing - on MASN HD, for a long time, the Spanish language sound feed bled into the Carpenter-Dibble feed, and it was a little surreal. If I understood Spanish, it probably would have really been distracting for me. When the Cardinals hit a home run, it sounded just like it does when watching a soccer game on a spanish language channel: "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOME RUN!" instead of "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!" That made me chuckle.
Perhaps MASN was just celebrating Hispanic Heritage Day a little bit early?
Another night, another loss, but at least tonight the Nats didn't beat themselves and they had their chances. Sad when this is the only consolation that we can take.
Posted by Joe Riley at 5/01/2009 09:39:00 PM
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This was a game which started out looking like a good old-fashioned slugfest. The Cardinals, led by All-Star first baseman Albert Pujols (arguably the best player in baseball) crushed a 2-run homer to open up the first inning, and then Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman answered that with one of his own in the bottom of the inning.
Nats starter Daniel Cabrera, despite establishing an ignominious team-record for wild pitches with four in the game, pitched well-enough to keep the Nats in the game.
The Nats even led, 4-3 at the end of the 6th inning, before the Cardinals tied it up in the 7th, 4-4. The 8th inning went scoreless, and the stage was set for a toe-to-toe battle in the 9th.
Then the wheels fell off of the proverbial bus.
The Nats allowed 11 walks the entire game, five by Daniel Cabrera and six by the bullpen. By the time Joel Hanrahan came in and BALKED the first batter he faced, not only had the wheels come off the bus, but the bus was in flames and plunging over the cliff.
Once again, the Nationals came into the 9th inning with a chance to win and...swooned. There's just no other way to look at it.
There is good news, though. Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to 19 games, and the month of April is now officially over.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/30/2009 10:37:00 PM
In an effort to boost the bullpen, the Nationals acquired 26 year-old right-hander Logan Kensing from the Florida Marlins for right-hander Kyle Gunderson.
Lefty-reliever Joe Beimel is due to return from the D/L very soon, but will throw at single-A Potomac to ease his way back to the big club.
Shortstop Cristian Guzman returned to the club from the D/L.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/30/2009 10:29:00 PM
Starter Scott Olsen got a nice win and the bullpen-by-committee did the job, especially Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells, and the Nationals avoided a sweep in Philadelphia by winning 4-1.
Ryan Zimmerman extended his hitting streak to a club-record 18 games, and had a double, and the club welcomed back Willie Harris who, along with Anderson Hernandez and Elijah Dukes, were the hit-men for the evening.
A nice end to an otherwise ugly road trip. Glad to have them back home.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/30/2009 10:16:00 PM
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I just don't know what to say about this one. Except for Adam Dunn's upper-deck blast of a homer to avoid a shutout, the Nats didn't really have a bright spot tonight. The Phillies just owned them.
Starter John Lannan needs a win.
Perhaps things will look up when our D/L clears up a bit and we get Willie Harris and Cristian Guzman and Joel Beimel back.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 11:19:00 PM
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 05:59:00 PM
Nats news: Hanrahan out as closer, bullpen-by-committee for time being, Beimel to close when he comes off D/L.
I take satisfaction, but no joy, in this bit of news from the Nationals: Hanrahan out as Nationals' closer.
Julian Tavarez and Kip Wells will be the late-inning setup men. When Joel Beimel gets off the disabled list, he will be the closer, which greatly pleases me.
I don't dislike Hanrahan, but until he can do the job, I don't want him closing. Perhaps he's not cut out to be a closer? Maybe he'd do better as a setup man? There has to be another suitable role for him.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/28/2009 04:29:00 PM
Monday, April 27, 2009
As an old-time radio character sometimes said, "I is regusted." Well, if he were a Nationals fan, that would be the understatement of the still-young season.
When have the Nationals ever had FIVE home runs in a game and lost? For that matter, when have they ever had five home runs in a game?
This was as down and dirty a slugfest as I've ever watched on a ballfield (at least in the 4+ seasons I've watched the Nationals.) The Nats had 11 runs on 12 hits, including TWO homers from Ryan Zimmerman, who also extended his hitting streak to 16 games. Nick Johnson, Elijah Dukes, and Adam Dunn all went long, in a ballpark where home runs are a staple.
But the Phillies had two - count 'em, TWO - Grand Slams. One from Ryan Howard (no surprise) and the second from Raul Ibañez, which finally put the Phillies ahead in the 8th for good.
The Nats had the Phillies. Like Rasputin, the Phillies kept coming back to life just when we thought they were dead. But they never led the game until the bottom of the 8th inning.
I hate to point fingers, but tonight fingers NEED to be pointed. Relief pitcher Garrett Mock and closer Joel Hanrahan. They sinned by walking batters in a crucial situation (inexcusable) and not trusting their stuff, not elevating their pitches and throwing off the hitters' timing. Joel Hanrahan has no business being our closer if he's going to keep blowing it in crucial situations. Stick him in the bullpen, send him down to AAA Syracuse, but for crying out loud, take him OUT of the closing role! As it stands, he cannot get the job done, and he's had every chance. I'd like to see Beimel as the closer, once he returns from the D/L. In his post-game interview, Manager Manny Acta declined to say whether or not Joel Hanrahan was going to remain the closer, but I have to believe that Manny can read the writing on the wall in front of him and even his legendary patience must have its limits.
The Phillies are not a bad or even mediocre ball club, they are the defending World Series Champions. A team is not going to beat them if they make mistakes against them. Maybe a team doesn't have to play "perfect" baseball against them, but you cannot give them more than a couple of mistakes because they will make you pay for them.
On "Nats Extra" after the game, I watched a VERY agitated Ray Knight describe what he saw going wrong. It was somewhat cathartic for me to watch, as we never see anyone actually ON the club get angry about these things. As a former World Series M.V.P. and Major League Manager, Knight's perspective really helped me to resolve my own frustrations about the team.
This April has been a disaster for the Nationals. There is still plenty of time to turn things around, but decisions need to be made now.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 10:30:00 PM
So far, Jordan Zimmermann is no fluke. He threw a beauty on Sunday (but was quite critical of his own performance), winning his second consecutive start and dropping his E.R.A. to 2.38 while striking out five, walking two and only allowing one earned run.
The offense did their part, too, notching 13 hits, including some great homers from Austin Kearns and Jésus Flores.
Finally, a road win!
Too busy this weekend to really go into better detail, so here's the wrap.
Now let's see if the Nats can take this upswing into Philadelphia and get Shairon Martis his 3rd win.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 08:57:00 AM
I was at work and couldn't watch this one. but I was going to turn on the radio and follow it.
After getting a little busy, I finally pulled up the game around 1:30, and saw that it was the bottom of the 1st inning.
The Nats were already behind 3-0.
Rather than distract myself with the radio, I just kept checking the score online. It just kept getting uglier. I saw those errors in the box and just sighed and went back to work.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/27/2009 08:48:00 AM
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Santana's "black magic" pitching spells trouble for Nats as rally falls short, lose to Mets 4-3, fall to 3-12
For the most part, I think that the Nats did pretty well last night against Mets ace Johann Santana. Against a guy like that, I think that you just have to battle as best you can and hope that he, or his teammates, makes a mistake. The guy is a workhorse. He threw 104 pitches in six innings, 75% of them for strikes, striking out 10, walking one, and only allowing Nick Johnson's home run (his first this year) to spoil his shutout. So what do you do with a pitcher like Santana? Outlast him. Hang in there and try to get to the bullpen, and that's what the Nationals did. Down 3-1, Jésus Flores hit a 2-run homer, his first of the season, to cut their deficit to 4-3 and, with no men out, the Nats had a few more chances to tie thinngs up, but it wasn't to be.
I feel badly for Nats starter Scott Olsen. He had a quality start, but didn't get enough help on defense.
Ah, well. If they're not going to win, at least don't embarass yourselves or your fans. Those close losses stink, but they stink less than the dominating blowouts. When the score goes the other way, that's pretty sweet.
At least the Nats had a nice, new, clean visitor's locker room to work out of, right?
Let's see what Daniel Cabrera can do today.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/25/2009 09:49:00 AM
Thursday, April 23, 2009
First of all, I blame myself for this loss. I jinxed the team.
I got to Nationals Park early and walked around the place a bit, just taking in the sunny, but breezy, weather and talking to friends, and then I happened to see team president Stan Kasten walking towards me. "Are we going to sweep?", I asked, making a sweeping motion with my invisible broom. Catching my eye, he asked, "What?" I repeated my question, and Kasten quickly put his finger to his lips and went, "Ssshhh!" I had to laugh, but I didn't realize how right he was going to be.
The Nationals demonstrated once again that they are a pretty good team for the first eight innings, as starter John Lannan battled the Braves Jair Jurrjens, scoreless inning for scoreless inning, and the bullpens continued to blank each other through the eighth inning. The game was moving along quickly, probably to the relief of shivvering fans whi might have forgotten to dress warmly for the evening.
Then came the ninth inning. Neither Garret Mock, nor Mike Hinckley were able to get more than two men out, and managed to walk three batters, including the winning run.
Talk about frustrating. Some losses are harder to swallow than others, but probably none more so than the ones where your team has chances to win and cannot capitalize on them, and when your team hurts its own cause. Walking batters is a pitcher's sin, and isn't tolerated for long.
I was glad to get out to the park early, hoping to catch Nationals batting practice. Unfortunately, I wasn't in time, and only caught a little bit of Braves practice instead. I ran into "Coach" Ron Simms, usher extraordinaire, and spent some happy moments catching up with him. He showed me his daughter's wedding pictures and his we talked about his improved health and other things. Suddenly, a batting practice ball landed in the stands near us. I looked at Coach and he said, "It's all yours". So I went and searched for it and spotted it about the same time as a visiting Cubs fan, and I managed to beat him to it. He and I talked, he was a nice guy and we discussed the ballpark a bit. I decided to give the baseball to Coach Simms, because I knew that he would give it to a little kid and make them happy.
I also got to catch up with Mr. Charles Wells, who supervises ushers, and Tony, another usher. These guys really enjoy their jobs and like helping people.
I finally ran into Roy, who still works the Diamond Club, and then went upstairs to see his wife, Ellie, and catch up with them. They are the sweetest people, and getting to spend a few moments swapping stories with them is always a treat.
I feel as though I'm almost caught up with my entire "summer family". That means a lot to me, it makes each visit to the ballpark just that much more special.
I bought a program, and was pleased to see that it was wrapped in plastic, to protect it from the anticipated rain (which never came, thankfully). That was a nice touch, one that I really appreciate. Another example of the organization trying to pay attention to the little details.
My friend Mark showed up to take in the game with me, and we got caught up from last season as well. I bought some Hard Times Chili Mac with cornbread (an old favorite of mine) and , having not had any lunch, I couldn't resist the chili nachos, which I shared with Mark. My souvenir soda came in a cup with the season schedule on it, which I'm glad to see again. The cups from the first couple of seasons had the schedule on it and I really liked that, it was a great feature that's often useful.
Before the game, I ran into the girls from We've Got Heart, and they introduced me to Mike from Nationals Fanboy Looser. Nice to see more of the Nat-mosphere in attendance.
Well, not a great game, unless you enjoy pitcher's duels (which I do), and the way they lost was just awful, but now I can add that experience to the list of, "Strange things that I've witnessed on a baseball field."
Now I can put away my scarf, gloves and Nationals jacket until late September (October? Someday...) as by the time they return, it will be May and warm.
A well-needed day off and then up to brand-new Citifield and the New York Mets for the weekend. That ought to be interesting.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/23/2009 08:38:00 AM
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
1) I'd like to apologize to starter Jordan Zimmermann for continually misspelling his name the other night. (As this blog is, obviously, the linchpin in the Nat-mosphere, he will notice this immediately and sleep much more soundly, I'm sure). I'll have to come up with a mnemonic device to remember how to spell his last name and Ryan Zimmerman's last name. Let's see...
"Ryan" has one "n", and "Jordan" has......one "n". Rats. That won't work.
Ah, I've got it! Ryan was our first "Z-man", and Jordan is our second "Z-mann". Get it? How's THAT for clever?
2) Oh, and while I'm on the subject of spelling and words, I think that the debate has been settled by no less authority than the Nationals themselves. The term shall, henceforth, be known as the "Nat-mosphere", not the "Nat-o-sphere" because, as we all saw last week, the Nats have no "o". I like how some have interpreted that uniform "o"-mission (pun seriously intended) to be a veiled swipe at Peter Angelos and the Baltimore Orioles, especially those Orioles fans who insist upon shouting "O!" during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, which disrespects the song, in my opinion. Hey, do the Atlanta fans shout "braves!" at the end of the song? Not that I've heard of.
3) [Jerry Seinfeld voice] "What's the deal with Comcast and MASN 2? Every....single...time...I try to set my DVR to record a Nats game on MASN 2, Comcast has the listings for that time slot(s) as "Book World", or "Tonight from Washington", or some such listing, rather than "MLB Baseball". [/END Jerry Seinfeld voice] So I wind up having to record HOURS of "U.S. Senate" feed from C-SPAN (Congratulations to Christopher Hill, confirmed by the Senate as our new Ambassador to Iraq on a 73-23 vote, by the way.) I don't know if MASN 2 is at fault or Comcast, but for crying out loud, someone needs to get their act together on this.
4) Personal gripe: Why on earth didn't the Nationals postpone Monday night's game? The weather forecast had been for rain and thunderstorms for several days before Monday, and it just seems ludicrous to have put everyone through the wet misery of that rain game. Oh, sure, it turned out well, the Nats won after all, but in front of how many fans? A bus-load, perhaps? This made no sense on several grounds:
A) The opponent was Atlanta. We play them several more times this season, it should be very easy to make that game up, unlike a visiting west coast team, for example, which only visits us once.
B) It was a Monday night, for goodness sake, the day of the week which usually has the lowest-attendance anyway. This was like a gift from the rain Gods! Make up the game on a Saturday or Sunday as a double-header when the crowds are better.
C) April games here have lower-attendance, because the kids are still in school. Make that game up in June, July, or August and you are guaranteed a larger crowd. Even if it rains then, you already have more people in the ballpark spending money on food and trying to keep their kids amused.
I can understand if it was after Labor Day, and you really have no opportunities to make up the game, or getting an umpiring crew in is difficult, but it's April!
I say that this was a bad call. Did the team stores and the vendors really make money that night? I think not. I think that they lost money that could have been recouped 10-fold during the summer.
5) The Nationals REALLY have to work on Metro and the last-train departures. I really do feel sorry for those poor fans who went to Monday night's rain game who took Metro and were forced to leave before the end of the game, lest they miss their trains. They deserved to see the end, to see that win. My gosh, that's like taking a girl out on a date for four and a half hours, and then another guy gets to drive her home.
Take heed, Nats-fans-who-Metro: Watch the weather reports. If there's even a possibility of a 2-hour rain delay during a night game, you run the risk of missing the end of the game.
6) Much has been made of the gesture of the Little Leaguers who want to pay Elijah Duke's $500 fine, and I have mixed feelings about that. While it is a generous and laudable gesture on their part to want to send a message to the club (and to Dukes) that they were grateful for his time spent with them, people have to remember that he was PAID for his appearance (from what I've read). And Dukes probably makes more on his contract than all of the Little Leaguers parents, collectively, per annum. At least the Nats will give the money to charity or towards their charitable works, but I dunno, something about that still irks me a little bit. My respect for Dukes as a person went up after I read about all of this, though.
7) There have been some calls in certain quarters for the Nationals to fire Manager Manny Acta due to this poor start, and because these critics don't feel as though he can get the club to a consistent winning level. I am not one of those people. Granted, I'm no expert, but of all of the problems with the club at this time, I don't believe that the Manager is one of them. It is still a very young club. All along, I've felt that 2009 was the watershed year, the year that the club loses all benefit of the doubts of the past several years (i.e. no owner, playing in the canyon of old R.F.K. stadium, etc..) 2008 was a real setback, with all of the injuries, but I don't think that firing Manny is going to solve any problems, either real or imagined. I like Manny's character, his self-discipline and the integrity that he projects and the respect that he has from other baseball people. He's like a young Joe Gibbs in a baseball uniform with a Spanish accent, in that regard (Manny's a LOT taller, though). We do not need to bring in some loud-mouthed egoist who wants to see his name in the sports pages every day, some strutting martinet on a power-trip.
For the critics, especially in this political town, maybe it would be easier to think of Manny Acta like Barack Obama: a good, highly-competant guy who has inherited a lot of big problems. No, he's not going to please everybody, but I have to believe that there are much worse alternatives.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/22/2009 10:51:00 AM
I'm beginning to wonder of there is some sort of weather correlation between the Nats and their victories. Two consecutive wet games, two consecutive wins. That certainly bodes well for this evening.
The night began with another hour-long rain delay, but Shairon Martis then took the mound for the Nats, and while he had a scary first inning, allowing three runs, he collected himself and managed to get through five more innings without trouble and notch his second win of the season.
The Nats rally began with Adam Dunn's 420-foot home run blast straight towards the batter's-eye in the sixth inning, cutting their deficit to 3-2, and then Austin Kearns tripled, and Josh Willingham came through with a pinch-hit to give them the lead, 4-3.
The bullpen did their job, and closer Joel Hanrahan managed to get the save. Mike Hinckley, who is credited with a hold, said afterwards that he gave all the glory to Jesus. At the risk of making light of Hinckley's religious faith (which I do not; I respect Hinckley and I respect his faith) I might suggest that he give some of that credit to his catcher, Jésus Flores, who called a great game and took quite a beating behind the plate. With all of the new pitchers he has to work with, I think that attention must be paid to the vital role of catcher Jésus Flores in the Nats battery success.
It is worth noting that the Atlanta Braves made a couple of key errors, possibly weather-induced due to the wet conditions, but this win was all Nats. I liked how they are being aggressive on the bases.
Wow, this is their first series victory of the season! That calls for for a small celebration, doesn't it? Now let's see if they can break out the brooms tonight, as John Lannan tries for his first victory. Goodness knows, he's overdue and has pitched well enough to earn them.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/22/2009 10:19:00 AM
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Washington Nationals have glimpsed part of their immediate future in the form of pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, and his performance in last night's 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves was certainly brighter than the weather.
After a two hour, ten minute rain delay, the game began and "J-Zim" quickly dispatched his first three batters with seven pitches. The evening was set for a pitcher's duel as the Braves Derek Lowe was his usual sharp self, and limited the Nats to only three runs in his six innings of work.
Zimmerman threw 71% strikes in his six innings, struck out three and walked one. He allowed one home run and established his initial Major League ERA at 3.00.
I had tickets to the game, but I didn't go. I was convinced that the game would be rained out. I worked late, and listened to Charlie and Dave on the radio on my ride home. Right when they brought on Assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo, at 8:15, I saw some flashes of lightning in the sky. I really thought that I'd made the right decision. Certainly, this game would be postponed, I reasoned. It's Atlanta, not some west coast team, we play them many more times, it's early in the season, plenty of time to make it up in a sensible fashion. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Between the rain, fog, mist, and cool temperatures, it just seemed like a miserable night to be out at the ballpark. The game went on, at 9:15, and then they had another rain delay in the 8th inning, at 11:16. Play resumed at 11:49, and ended just over five hours after it was supposed to begin, at 12:12, but the actual playing time was only two hours and twenty four minutes.
I feel sorry for the fans who took Metro and actually sat through that messy weather, only to be informed at 11:45 that the last Metro trains would be leaving soon, so they had to rush out of the stadium to make their trains, never getting to see and enjoy the end of the game. That's too bad.
J-Zim looked great. By all accounts, his control, attitude and temperament are first-rate, and I can't wait to see him play in person and witness that 95 mph fastball for myself, as long as I get a little bit drier weather, please. He also knows how to execute a nice sac-bunt, which always helps. I like how he allowed a walk, then gave up a 2-run homer to Matt Diaz, but came right back to retire six of seven batters. That kind of steely mindset will serve him well.
I'm excited about our new arrivals, especially the youngsters. Justin "J-Max" Maxwell stole his first Major League base last night, pitcher Garrett Mock got in the game, as did Alex Cintron and Kip Wells.
So, 2-10. Expo-nentially (that's a joke, by the way) that's quite a percentage increase. Hopefully, we can keep that rolling.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/21/2009 09:08:00 AM
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Deja-vu all over again. Another 9th inning implosion as Nats lose 3rd straight to Marlins, 7-4, fall to 1-10.
Man, I'm glad to see the Marlins leave town.
Today, the Nats put forth another good effort through 8 innings only to collapse in the 9th and lose.
What can you say after this? At least Joel Hanrahan escaped any culpability, he wasn't sent in to pitch in the 9th.
I don't know what the deal is with Saul Rivera, usually a bullpen reliever put in to close today, but he's not the same pitcher he's been the last two years, he's worse. Quite simply, he's not throwing strikes and he's consistently getting behind the batters.
For my part, I changed my blog template (like it?) to see if that might send the team some good mojo. Alas, it didn't help. I may have to change it again.
For the most part, starter Daniel Cabrera did his job, even though he committed the unforgivable sin of actually walking the opposing pitcher.
On MASN, Bob Carpenter made a comment which made me laugh, yet turned out to be quite prescient. When the Nats went up 2-0 early, Carpenter commented, "Somewhere in the Marlins dugout, someone is saying, 'We've got them right where we want them'". Alas, his comment was right on the money.
The offense was getting on base, but they kept stranding runners. I don't know yet how many runners they left there, but through the first five innings, they'd stranded ten. TEN runners! I'm not certain that I want to know what the final total was.
I'm kind of glad that I wasn't there for this one. Gray sky, chilly and a little breezy.
I have tickets to tomorrow night's game, but the forecast is for rain all day long, so it might be another postponement. It will be too bad if that happens. I'm anxious to see the Major League debut of Jordan Zimmerman, one of the team's best young pitching prospects. Also, in Manager Manny Acta's postgame press conference, he made it clear that there would be an all-new bullpen tomorrow. The phones are ringing in Syracuse tonight.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/19/2009 05:16:00 PM
I was disappointed that I wasn't able to use my tickets to the Nats/Marlins game yesterday, but it was a 1:05 game, and I work Saturdays. To compound my envy for those who A) didn't have to work, and B) were going to the game, the weather was 100% glorious, as almost-perfect a spring day as one could wish for in Washington. To make matters even more vexing, it was schedule-magnet giveaway day. Fortunately, I was able to give my tickets to a friend.
If you had the opportunity to go to the game and turned it down because of the Nats record, I think that you kind of missed the bigger picture of what baseball joy is all about; watching your favorite team on a beautiful afternoon. I mean, really, is there a nicer way to spend an ideal spring afternoon? Isn't that what so many of us missed about growing up in D.C. from 1972 until 2005?
So with no T.V. available to me, I did what any other devoted Nats fan would do when confronted with such barriers: I simply put on Charlie and Dave and played out the action in my head (oh, and on the gameday feature of Nationals.com)
Things certainly looked bright at the end of the first inning, as Austin Kearns hit a grand slam to put them up 5-0. The Nats were getting hits galore, and their fortunes were looking as bright as the sky over Nationals Park.
That was the good.
The club had a sad scare late in the game when Roger Bernadina, playing centerfield for Elijah Dukes, who was being disciplined for being 5 minutes late for work, went way back to the wall to snag a long fly ball and made a spectacular catch and throw, but fractured his ankle in the process and had to be helped off the field. He had two screws inserted into his ankle, and will be out for several months, and the club has called up Justin Maxwell from AAA Syracuse to fill in for him.
That was the bad.
With starter Scott Olsen and the bullpen having allowed only 4 runs, the Nats were one out away from victory at the top of the 9th, when closer Joel Hanrahan allowed a home run with a man on base to suddenly tie the game, 6-6. The game went into 11 innings, and the Marlins chalked up 3 more runs and the Nats lost 9-6.
That was the ugly.
What are the odds that a closer is going to have two consecutive blown saves, on consecutive days, to the same opponent, both of which were home runs which tied the game? I hope that Hanrahan's teammates kept all sharp objects away from him and confiscated his shoelaces afterwards.
After the game, I was certainly conflicted. I sure was disappointed in the surprise loss, and I didn't have to eat my heart out that I'd missed a great win (I still wish I'd been there for Kearn's grand slam, though) and I didn't feel so bad that I'd been inside on such a great day.
There's been a lot of chatter online about the Nats decision to sit Elijah Dukes for being 5 minutes late to work. Dukes had been doing something for Little Leaguers, some sort of community outreach that the Nationals encourage the players to do, even though this wasn't a club-sponsored event. Not only was Dukes on the bench for most of the game, and fined $500, supposedly he's been threatened by acting General Manager Mike Rizzo with being sent down to AAA Syracuse if it happens again.
I think that this whole situation is ridiculous. There have to be extenuating circumstances and a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the club. It isn't as though he was late because he was out drinking all night and overslept, for crying out loud. But being threatened with being sent down to the minors? Good grief.
Dukes is obviously turning his life around from his troubled past and doing what the club asks of him. The $500 fine I have no problem with, that is still a punishment.
I'm beginning to wonder if sitting Dukes wasn't an excuse to give Bernadina some playing time. Manager Manny Acta is having trouble trying to accomodate all of his outfielders so this might have been a perfect act of expediency on his part.
But what an odd confluence of events which has sent Bernadina to the disabled list. I just learned that the Nats have already sent 7 players to the disabled list this season. Shades of 2008, and let's hope that it doesn't get any worse.
I hope that after Sunday, that we're done with the Marlins for a while.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/19/2009 01:21:00 PM
Friday, April 17, 2009
Friday, April 17th was a gorgeous spring evening for baseball. Too bad I didn't have tickets, but I usually forgo Friday night games anyway because I have to be at work so darned early on Saturdays. And if there is a rain delay (or extra innings, as tonight's game had), it just increases my anxiety of being able to drag my butt out of bed Saturday morning in time to be at work when I need to.
Tonight's game might have been worth the effort, though. Starter John Lannan ("The Walrus", I call him) had a wonderful game, the bullpen was terrific, especially our new setup man, Joel Beimel, who ROCKS, and poor Joel Hanrahan blew his save with the home run he allowed.
Alberto "The A.G." Gonzalez might just be the most exciting player we have right now (I'm also thinking that he needs a better nickname. The joke was, he has the exact same name as a recent Attorney General, so perhaps we should just call him, 'Top Cop"? Heck, I dunno, I'm just spitballing here.) Don't get me wrong, I love Cristian "All-Star, 5 for 5" Guzman, but Gonzalez brings a lot to the table. I'm pretty happy with the Nats shortstop situation right now.
Manager Manny Acta got ejected for only the second time in his brief career, and at the moment (top of the 10th inning) I still don't quite know why, but I'm slightly bemused because I was there in Philadelphia when Acta got his first career ejection, two seasons ago, and there was no question why at the time. Funnily enough, John Lannan was also pitching that day (it was his Major League debut) and due no doubt to jitters, he hit two Phillies batters, Chase Utley (broke Utley's hand, too) and Ryan Howard, and umpire Hunter Wendlestead (sp?) tossed him and then tossed Acta, who came out to defend his player. Even MASN color commentator, Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, thought that Wendlestead made a bad decision there. And, oh, were the Philly fans in a heated lather over that! They were calling for Lannan's head.
My gosh, it's great to see some Nats offense. They didn't have a lot of runs tonight, but they sure had a lot of hits, 12 to be exact.
No, the Nats didn't win, but they played well against the team with the best record in baseball. They led most of the night and only made one error. If it weren't for that one hanging breaking ball from Hanrahan in the 9th, they would have pulled it out 2-1.
Yeah, I hate losing as much as the next fan, but there is losing and there is losing badly, and the Nats didn't lose this one badly. It gives me hope for tomorrow and Sunday. It's an encouraging loss, not a horrible, dispiriting, crushing loss.
If this team continues to compete like this, the victories will certainly come in due course.
And someday soon, they should be able to string two victories together. And won't that be grand?
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/17/2009 10:18:00 PM
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The 1988 Orioles can relax, no challenge to their 0-22 start this year as Nats beat Philies 8-2 to advance to 1-7.
What a relief. Nice to get that first one out of the way, and in such high style, too. Home runs from Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Elijah Dukes, and Alberto Gonzales. Starter Shairon Martis got a nice win, too. Great performances from all of the "new" guys; Willingham, Gonzales, and Roger Bernardina, who got a nice stolen base.
This is the kind of performance that I think most of us were expecting seven games ago. Let's just hope that the team got off to a slow start and needed time to "find" itself.
Another couple of nice things: no errors, and not many stranded baserunners, only eight, I think. Much better than those games last week, such as the one where the Nats stranded 15 (or was it 16?) men on base.
All in all, a great treat for all of the Nats fans who showed up at the park this evening. Tonight's game wasn't in my package, alas.
Oh, and those new "alternate" uniforms are pretty darned snazzy. They remind me a bit of the Braves alternate home uniform introduced a season or two ago. Frankly, I like them better than the "official" white with red home uniform. The blue hat is cool, with the red, white, and blue interlocking "DC", but I'd prefer to see a red, white, and blue curly "W" instead. I vote that the club wears that uniform at home for the rest of the season.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/16/2009 11:54:00 PM
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Well, it's been almost an entire year between blog posts. Miss me? (Don't answer that).
I was quite excited a year ago when the new stadium was opening and I thought for certain that the 2008 Washington Nationals would be more competitive than the 2007 squad, if for no other reason that the smaller dimensions of the new park would allow for more offense than the canyon of R.F.K. ever could.
Then came the collapse.
Sometime around July 4th, I even stopped going to the games, as real life interfered which necessitated a move and all of the expenses that entails, not to mention the time involved. The Nationals didn't make it too tough on me to miss their home games, they obliged me by losing and giving me little reason to regret my stadium non-attendance.
The other problem was the ballpark itself. Oh, it's beautiful and clean and has plenty of food and drink and fun opportunities for families, and the Metro system makes it pretty easy to get to. The scoreboard is terrific and as far as I'm concerned the only "bad" seats are ones where you cannot view the scoreboard. Volumes were written last year by more patient bloggers than myself, as well as the working press, about the virtues and vices of Nationals Park, but my single biggest problem with it was that it isolated me from a lot of the people I enjoyed seeing, and because there are no large parking lots which bring in most of the fans, I couldn't really bump into friends on my way out of the games the way that I could at R.F.K. So that took away a lot of the fun for me. I do like the new ballpark - really, at the end of the day, what's not to like if you're an average (or even above-average) fan?
With the way things went in 2008, I didn't feel much like blogging about the team. Honestly, who really wants to read a litany of losing? It just gets tiresome, and I was completely uninspired. There's also been an increase in the number of baseball blogs which are either devoted to the Nationals or include them often enough in their content. I salute them for their efforts. They must not just have the time, which has to be considerable to do any justice, but also the passion and inspiration to do it.
It also didn't help that the Nationals traded away two of my favorite players (Ryan Church and Brian Schneider) for Lastings Milledge, who has been lauded up and down for having such promise, yet he has struggled so mightily since joining the club that seven games into this season, they've already sent him down to minor-league Syracuse. That really hurt me as a fan, I loved both of those players, and miss them terribly. I'm just happy, for their sakes, that they went to a more successful organization, the New York Mets.
What people must never forget about the 2008 Nationals as they marched to 122 loses and became the worst team in MLB is the plague of injuries that they suffered. The squad which took the field on Opening Day was completely devastated by injuries and if I remember this correctly, every player who was on the field on Opening Day went to the D/L at least once by the All-Star break. The only bit of pleasantry was seeing SS Cristian Guzman become the team representative to the All-Star game, after suffering such terrible campaigns in 2005 and 2006.
So many players have come and gone. The only ones left from Opening Day of the inaugural 2005 season are 1B Nick Johnson (finally healthy again? Fingers crossed!) and Guzman. I realize that cuts and trades are the nature of the game, but it would be nice to have a little more stability and continuity.
The post 2008 off-season of moves was interesting, all the way up through spring training. The Lerner family attempted to land free agent Mark Texeira, who decided that the allure of New York Yankee pinstripes and more-likely post-season glory was more valuable to him than the money that the Lerners offered as well as closer proximity to his family in Maryland. They did succeed in signing slugger Adam Dunn which promises to add excitement at the plate and veteran leadership in the locker room. They traded for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen from the Florida Marlins. There are far too many other personnel changes to list, (including the coaching staff) but those were the major acquisitions.
To the surprise of few (and the delight of many, according to many blogs and published comments) the Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden resigned after facts came to light about one of their highly-touted Carribean prospects, who turned out to be older than originally thought and even his name was not what everyone thought that it was. Bowden resigned during the ongoing investigation, and was never actually charged with anything, but after the 122-loss season and allegations of misconduct in the club's Carribean operations, Bowden claimed to resign so as not to be a distraction to the team. Some of his assistants, including José Rijo, the head of their Carribean operation, also resigned or were let go. No immediate successor has been named, but assistant General Manager Mike Rizzo has taken on some General Manager duties and team President Stan Kasten is, essentially, also the General Manager for the time being.
The Nats had a good Spring Training and their minor leaguers are showing promise. All signs have pointed to a better 2009 season that 2008 was.
Well, that remains to be seen. As of today, Wednesday, April 15th, the Nats are 0-7. They've definitely had more offensive production, but they've also been stranding far too many baserunners. They definitely need some tweaking and tinkering and Manager Manny Acta has his hands full.
The Nats home opener, two days ago, was somewhat more sedate due to the 0-6 record, the overcast sky and cool weather, and the decision by President Obama not to honor one of D.C.'s oldest professional baseball traditions, the throwing-out of the honorary first pitch by the current President. Many fans were disappointed by that.
I'm not certain how many fans thought that the Nats had a real chance against the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, the reigning World Series Champions, but considering that the Nationals made three errors and starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera had a weak outing, they may have been lucky to only have lost 9-8. Adam Dunn, Elijah Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman all had home runs, which made things exciting, and Cristian Guzman went 5 for 5 at the plate, but pulled his hamstring running to first base.
Before the game began, the team had a moment of silence for Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhardt, who perished with two others in a car crash last week after Opening Day. Adenhardt had many local connections, having been a Maryland native. A further sad pall was cast over the day's festivities by the sudden death of Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, in the Nationals press booth, less than three hours before the start of the game. Kalas, a broadcasting legend both in MLB and the NFL, had been ill, but no one suspected that he wasn't well enough to travel. I have to believe that his sudden death gave the Phillies players added incentive to win that day's game on his behalf.
After a day off, the Nationals were to resume their 3-game series with the Phillies, but the game was postponed due to the day's continued rainfall. Perhaps it was a mercy, in that it gave Guzman and other players more time to rest.
So that's the "Reader's Digest condensed-version" of recent and near-recent events surrounding the Nationals. For my part, I've had to scale down from a full-season ticket plan to a 40-game plan due to economic reasons. I am already missing knowing that I can attend any game that I wish to (or not). I've moved over from the 1B side to the 3B side to be in the shade during the day games. Really, in relation to the field, I'm about where I was at R.F.K. Stadium, perhaps a tad bit closer to home plate. I have no complaints.
So far, I've seen usher Tim Harris and beer vending legend Neal. Nice to catch up with old friends. There are still many people who I'm anxious to see though. I hope to catch up with many more people at the ballpark before the end of the month.
I didn't get to the ballpark as early as I would have liked, so I missed some of the Opening Day ceremonies, but I bought a beer from Neal. I haven't tried any of the new food offerings yet from the new food vendor, but I look forward to some of my favorites: Five Guys burgers, Ben's half-smokes and some chili and cheese nachoes.
Many comments have been made about the new bronze statues in the Centerfield Plaza area, of D.C baseball legends Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson, and Frank Howard. None of the comments have been positive. I have to agree. Sadly, I think that those statues are as ugly as sin and they do not do dignified justice to their subjects. A tremendous opportunity for truly majestic and dignified statues has been squandered. Such a pity. Those men deserve better. If I get to see Frank Howard again soon, I will offer him my regrets that his statue wasn't nicer.
I had a really nice chat with a couple of Phillies fans sitting near me. They were greatly outnumbered by Nationals fans on Opening Day, but I really detected an improved attitude by them over recent years. I think that because they won the World Series last October, after a 28-year drought, their fans have less of a chip on their shoulders. I could be wrong, though. Perhaps by mid-season their frustrations will return and they'll be back to their old selves again. There was one Philly fan nearby me who made a couple of rude comments, but perhaps winning gives them license to make such comments. Hopefully, I'll find out the answer to that question myself some day.
I'm not a "fair weather" fan, but for me the simple facts are that I go to the Nationals games to have fun and enjoy myself, and when they are losing so badly and not putting a team on the field that I really want to watch, I lose a lot of incentive to go and have even less incentive to want to share my thoughts about it. They don't have to win 120 games to satisfy me as long as they are a COMPETATIVE team playing baseball worth watching. They don't have to win the division to keep me interested, just keep my hopes up, that's all I ask. The Nationals aren't "loveable losers", they are a young team trying to find itself, but it gets rough when you have to listen to a constant barrage of criticism and bragging from Orioles fans, Mets fans, Phillies fans, Braves fans, et. al. And blogging isn't my job, it is something that I do to share the joys of Nationals baseball with my family and friends and whomever else cares to read these miscellaneous ramblings of mine. But the Nationals have to give me something joyful to write about first.
Despite all of their troubles and loses, Nationals baseball is STILL better than no baseball at all to me. I love meeting other fans, even fans of other teams and just having nice discussions about baseball. At it's best, it's completely wonderful.
I remain hopeful, if guarded, about their prospects for this season.
Look for me in section #112, row HH. I'll be the guy in the red Nats cap. Say "hello" if you have the time.
Posted by Joe Riley at 4/15/2009 09:25:00 PM