Archive for September, 2009

Errors Sink Mets

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The Washington Nationals rallied from three runs down, capitalized on two Mets errors in the 8th inning — and were buoyed by an Elijah Dukes running catch at the right field wall — to take the second game of their three game series with the New Yorkers, 4-3. The Mets gaffes came when pinch hitter Cristian Guzman hit into an apparent double play, but Mets’ shortstop Anderson Hernandez threw the ball away. The next Nats’ hitter, Ian Desmond, also hit the ball to Hernandez, but this time second baseman Luis Castillo made the error — throwing the ball into the Nats’ dugout after getting the force at second. The muffs allowed the Nats to break a 3-3 tie, going ahead by a single run heading into the ninth. The game ended on a spectacular leaping catch by Elijah Dukes against the right field wall, preserving the Nats’ second win in as many nights.

Whatever Jim Riggleman said to closer Mike MacDougal two nights ago (after MacDougal allowed three runs in the 10th against the Braves) seems to have worked: MacDougal notched his 18th save on Tuesday with another dominant ninth inning performance. MacDougal’s ERA has taken a beating during September. After a steady August, the Nats thought they had finally found their closer. MacDougal’s ERA stood at just over 3.40. But over the next month, culminating with the three runs he gave up against Atlanta, MacDougal gave up a steady stream of ninth inning hits (and runs) and his ERA plunged — after tonight’s win it stands at a wobbly 4.42. But on Monday night, MacDougal notched three ground outs (with three up and three down), while tonight he served up two strikeouts to close out the Chokes on successive nights. Not surprisingly, the key for MacDougal is throwing strikes, which he has consistently done over the last two games.

Detwiler’s Curly W

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Ross Detwiler notched his first win of the season on Monday, with a 2-1 win over the Mets. The victory against the Chokes was a distinct improvement over the previous three games: the Nats’ starter was effective, the bullpen held the opposition to zero hits in three scoreless innings, and the Nats scored when they needed to. “It feels great,” Detwiler said of his victory. “It kind of feels like I got the pressure off myself to get that first victory. It’s one for the records.” The starter’s success came because he threw strikes: 65 of them in 99 pitches — with three strikeouts, nine groundouts and seven fly balls. Detwiler gave up seven hits and lowered his ERA to 5.35. Mike MacDougal, whose confidence took a hit during the series with the Braves, came on to pitch the ninth — and retired the side. Surprisingly, the Nats hitting was provided by three newcomers. Justin Maxwell went 2-4, Ian Desmond 2-3 and Mike Morse 3-4. Morse, who’s been hitting the hide off the ball, hit his third homer of the season in the sixth inning with no one on.

The Case For The Kids: Nats fans are getting a taste of what they’ll be seeing next year. Monday’s lineup included Justin Maxwell, Ian Desmond, Mike Morse and Alberto Gonzalez. While interim manager Jim Riggleman says that he will continue to play his veterans, the end of the season is turning into a kind of advanced spring training. The August 27 injury to Nyjer Morgan (and Cristian Guzman’s bum foot) has allowed Riggleman to test Mike Morse’s staying power in the bigs and so far he has to like what he’s seen. Chico Harlan quotes Riggleman as calling Morse “a professional hitter,” and the numbers bear him out: Morse is hitting .306 and seems to have shaken off the injury bug that has been such a big part of his career. Riggleman doesn’t quite know where to put Morse, but he started him in right field on Monday, in place of Elijah Dukes. Dukes has been hitting better since his mid-season return from the minors, but he’s the first to admit he has trouble hitting a curve. Then too, while Dukes’ on base numbers are getting better by the game, his power stroke has disappeared. That’s not true for Morse, who’s season total of three home runs was notched in the last three games.

The rise of Morse — and Justin Maxwell’s apparent new found ability to hit major league pitching — creates one of those happy, and rare, problems: a crowded outfield. Barring a trade (and given that Nyjer Morgan has centerfield locked up, with Willingham in left), the Nats are now set to go to Florida with at least four outfielders contending for the remaining outfield slot: Morse, Dukes, Maxwell and Roger Bernadina. While it’s too soon to tell (and a lot can happen in the off-season), if spring training were to start today, the competition for right field would likely come down to a tussle between Morse and Dukes. Dukes has helped his cause by being a good citizen and consistent nose-in-the-dirt player, but his BA continues to hover between .250 and .260. Right now, albeit in far fewer games, Morse is shaping up to be the better hitter.  

Of course, it’s possible that Riggleman (if he loses his “interim” tag) will write Morse’s name in at second base: but Alberto Gonzalez’s recent post-slump production (seven for 17 in the last five games and ten points on his BA over the last ten) and improved defense make him a contender for a starting spot up the middle. Gonzalez is no Chase Utley (who is), but there are plenty of teams out there who would love to have a second baseman who can hit .270. Over at Nationals Pride, Jeff wonders whether the Nats should sign free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. Maybe they should. But the Nats’ weakness up the middle is not at second (Gonzalez has — count ’em — one error at second in 51 games), it’s at short — and getting Hudson doesn’t solve that problem. I’ve never understood the knock on Gonzalez: he hits better than Kaz Matsui (a lot better), fields better than Felipe Lopez (remember him?) and doesn’t have a surgically repaired and naggingly bum left wrist, like Hudson. Putting Gonzalez permanently at second (just ignor what these guys have to say about him) makes for one less thing: and frees up money to sign a top flight starter (or even a couple) and a top notch closer (if they can find one). After all, it’s possible for a team to win, or even contend, with a steady-but-not-great second baseman, but it’s impossible for them to win without a starting staff or a bullpen. If 2009 showed the Nats anything, it showed them that.

Meeting Carlton Fisk

Monday, September 28th, 2009

One of the memorable baseball photographs of all time — perhaps the most memorable — is of Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk waving his arms, willing a fly ball fair during the sixth game of the Red Sox-Reds 1975 World Series. The date was October 21, 1975 and the Big Red Machine was leading the Bosox three games to two. With the Reds leading 6-3 in the eighth inning of the sixth game, Red Sox pinch hitter Bernie Carbo launched a fastball into the left field seats, tying the game at six apiece. And that’s the way it stayed until the 11th inning, when Joe Morgan nearly put the Reds on top with a long fly to right. But Morgan’s sure home run ended up in the glove of Dwight Evans, who made a spectacular catch to save the game — and the series. The Reds failed to score that inning and the next and on they went, into the bottom of the 12th.

Red Sox Diehard tells the rest of the story: “In the home half of the twelfth, Carlton Fisk led off. He stepped to the plate at 12:33 am, and hit the second pitch of the inning hight and deep to left field, but right down the line. If it stayed fair it was a sure home run, but would it stay fair? Fisk jumped up and down in front of home plate, wildly gesturing toward the ball, waving it fair. The ball smacked the foul pole. Home run. The Red Sox had won.” The Big Red Machine went on to take the series the next night, winning the series in seven nail biting games, but as “Diehard” reminds us, Fisk’s quip says it all: “the Red Sox won the series, three games to four.”

 

Fisk’s quip gets it right. Any diehard Red Sox fan (or any diehard baseball fan) will tell you that the 1975 World Series may well be the greatest ever played. And that’s true not because the Big Red Machine won, but because the Red Sox, in defeat, provided some of the most unforgettable post-season memories in major league history. There’s the aging but noble Luis Tiant, pitching his heart out, and Yaz battling for his ring — with an underrated outfield that ranks among baseball’s most surprising. Rose and Griffey and Morgan and Bench versus Yaz and Lynn and Evans and Petrocelli. But it is Fisk’s sixth game home run that remains the symbol of the series, as great a moment as Ruth’s “called shot,” Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” or Mazeroski’s 9th inning game-set-match home run of 1960.  

So when I was given the opportunity to meet Fisk — at a (get this) baseball card show in Pennsylvania — I took it. It’s not that I am a huge fan of the retired catcher: I remember him mostly as a backstop for the Comiskeys, to whom he was traded after a particularly ugly parting with the Red Sox (standard for them). But it was an opportunity, you see, and my wife (here she is, in case you’ve forgotten) is a Red Sox and Carlton Fisk fan. I fantasized my return home (triumphant!) with a bagful for me, but with “a little something” for her. So after me and “me droog” Dan (a lifelong Naps fan) navigated the D.C. to Philly highway puzzle — and after having strolled through dozens of baseball card exhibits — I bought a Carlton Fisk baseball card and handed it to him. “If my wife hadn’t married me,” I said, “I am sure she would have married you.” He laughed. “She must be a Red Sox fan,” he said.

It isn’t every day that you get to meet a hall of fame catcher — and baseball icon — so I took the opportunity to pose some questions, including the one I’m certain Fisk has been asked countless times. Do you consider yourself a Red Sox player or a White Sox player? He smiled and gave the recitation — and for all I know he’d said this so many times there was a string coming out of his back that anyone could pull to hear the same thing. But he was polite: “Oh, I consider myself a Red Sox,” he said. “Sure, I had some problems with the Red Sox in my career and that’s the reason I went to Chicago, but I think I played my best years in Boston. We weren’t any good in Chicago, but we won in Boston.”

He scribbled his name on the baseball card and looked up and stuck out his hand for me to shake and continued: “And I grew up in New Hampshire and the Red Sox were always my favorite team, and kind of my home town team.” I said that I’d seen him play in Chicago, a long time ago. “You remember,” I said. “One year they wore shorts.” He waved: “Oh God, not me. That was the year after I left.” I thanked him for the autograph and walked away, past the next table — where Johnny Bench, his 1975 nemesis was seated, chatting with a fan. I didn’t pay much attention.

3e66_1.jpg image by ChadFinn

Nats Fall In Ten

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

The Atlanta Braves scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning to down the Washington Nationals, 6-3 at Nationals Park on Sunday. The loss meant a three game sweep of the Nats at the hands of the surging Chops, who now await word on the Rockies’ tilt against the Cardinals in Denver. The Atlanta victory put them just two games behind Colorado in the Wild Card standings — and if Colorado loses against the Redbirds, that difference would shrink even further. The Atlanta win spoiled a good outing from Nationals’ starter Livan Hernandez, who pitched a solid 6.1 — giving up only six hits and three earned runs. It was by far the best outing by a Nats pitcher during the series: the Chops scored 21 runs against the Anacostia Nine in the three game tilt in D.C.

On Sunday, the Nats jumped out to an early lead, with Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Willingham hitting back-to-back home runs in the first inning. The back-to-back homers ended a run of frustrating at-bats for Nats hitters, who have had problems putting together big innings from the middle of their order. In all, the Nats broke out for nine hits in the game, but it wasn’t enough as, once again, the Nats’ bullpen couldn’t keep the Braves off the board. Mike MacDougal’s recent ninth inning woes continued, as he appeared cold coming in from bullpen — and couldn’t find the strike zone. The result was three Atlanta runs and a 6-3 Nats loss.

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Nats Ending With A Whimper

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

This is apparently the way that Nats end: not with a bang, but with a whimper. With seven games left in the season, the Atlanta Braves banged out thirteen hits against five Nats’ pitchers, victimizing Garrett Mock with seven hits and six runs in five innings of work. Mock, who has said he doesn’t pay attention to things like personal wins and losses, (or defensive gaffes – or his own ERA), began Saturday’s tilt against the Chops by allowing four runs in the first inning — a pattern of early innings futility that has become the sad norm amongst Washington’s young arms. It was all Braves thereafter, as Atlanta lumbered through an 11-5 win. Mock doesn’t pay attention to personal wins and losses? It’s a good thing: he’s now 3-10. With Washington losing nine of its last 11, it’s clear that the mounting losses are having an impact in the clubhouse — even this late in the season: “I don’t like losing,” Nats’ slugger Adam Dunn said after the game. “I can’t really point a finger why we are losing. It’s very frustrating. I can’t put it into words. I hate it. I hate it. It’s not good.”

Those Are The Details, Now for the Headlines: Saturday’s marquee match-up pitted the N.L. Central’s Redbirds against the Colorado Rockies — and dominant Redbird righty Adam Wainwright against fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez. It was a must-win for the Rockies, who are looking in the rearview mirror at the Braves, who are now just 2.5 out of the Wild Card lead. Which is why the Saturday match-up was so important. Shockingly, the usually steady Ubaldo Jimenez was shaky out of the gate while (less surprisingly) Cy Young contender Adam Wainwright look untouchable. Jimenez lost his control in the first inning — giving up three runs, but the Rockies’ rallied late, tying the game at three in the fifth. It stayed that way until the 7th, when unlikely hero Jason LaRue deposited a hanging Jimenez slider in the left field seats. That’s all St. Louis needed to win: and clinch the division championship.

Is there a growing sense of panic on the rockpile? ” We’re still ahead,” Colorado manager Jim Tracy said after his team’s loss to the Cards. “We saw what the Cardinals just accomplished with their victory tonight, and if we keep going in the manner that we have the last couple of nights, I promise you that we’ll put ourselves in a very good position to maybe have a little celebration like that for ourselves.” Tracy is paid to be upbeat, but with Atlanta surging the Purple’s fans are beginning to show signs of gnawing doubt — and a feeling that the team is just not hitting (literally) on all cylinders. “There is a perception around the league that all of the Rockies get hot and cold together and that’s why they’re prone to stretches where they can’t win followed by stretches that they can’t lose,” Rox Girl at Purple Row says. “While there’s a little truth to that, those of us that follow the team closely know that there are slumps within the machine even while it’s working well, as well as hot players churning along even when it’s not.”

All Things Rockies, meanwhile, notes that some key players are slumping — including bopper Brad Hawpe, who was recently lifted for former White Elephant Jason Giambi. Hawpe isn’t the only one who’s slumping. Colorado’s fleet-footed Nyjer-like centerfielder, Dexter Fowler is hitting a forgettable .267, an average that belies his recent struggles. Fowler, whose speed is wasted if he can’t get on base, looked positively overmatched on Saturday, going 0-4. Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy finally threw in the towel, pinch hitting for Fowler in the 9th. The Fowler stand-in against Redbird reliever Ryan Franklin was part time left fielder Seth Smith — and you have to wonder why Tracy isn’t using him more. Smith was the N.L. player of the week in early September, when Smith was positively on fire: in six games he hit .542 with four home runs, five doubles and ten RBIs. He posted a .607 OBP.

The Rockies and their fans would deny there’s any sense of panic (of course) and the even-keeled Jim Tracy waves off reporters who remind him that the Braves are closing fast. But there are those niggling little signs (familiar to Mets fans) that signal doubt: complaints about the perceived unfairness of umpire calls (the normally phlegmatic Tracy questioned the strike zone on Saturday), reassurances from players that their “rhythm is coming back” (as Rockies’ catcher Yorvit Torrealba would say), and complaints among diehards that, while the Rockies are facing the class of the National League, their chief competitor is in the midst of a series against an also-ran. This is vintage whine. And disturbing evidence that the Rockies have stopped searching for ways to win — and started issuing excuses.

Vazquez Dominates Nats

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

Faced with a must-win situation, the Atlanta Braves stayed in the race for a wild card birth in the N.L. playoffs with a three-hit shutout pitched by Chops’ ace Javier Vazquez. Vazquez was brilliant in his nine inning, 4-1 complete game outing, though John Lannan was nearly as good: the Nats’ hard luck lefthander pitched seven innings of six hit ball, giving up runs to errors and a hit lost in the lights. The Nats had one chance to give Vazquez something to think about — in the fourth inning, but Ryan Zimmerman was stranded at second as Josh Willingham and Pete Orr flied out. The only Nats’ run came on a solo shot by Josh Bard.  The Nats were once again victimized by poor play: an error by Pete Orr, a ball lost in the lights, a fly ball that should have been caught but wasn’t. This was the Nats 101st loss of the season, but the win leaves the Braves just three games behind the Colorado Rockies, who have lost two.

Down On Half Street: Nats 320 has a transcript of Josh Willingham’s fan appearance at ESPN Zone (a public service, that). Willingham’s comments on the differences between playing at Sh-ti Field as compared to Shea Stadium are interesting. He can’t quite admit that he thinks the new home of the Mets is a terrible park, but he comes close. “I didn’t get to play in New Yankee Stadium because I was home. But as far as Shea Stadium and Citi Field, there is absolutely no comparison. Citi Field is so big. The wall is so tall. And like I was saying, when you are running for a ball in the gap in left centerfield—it never ends” . . .

It’s old news, but Nats Farm Authority has Nationals roster for the Instructional League. All eyes are already on Stephen Strasburg — and Drew Storen. But, there are others to watch, including forgotten fireballer Josh Smoker. Once upon a time, in a draft far far away, Smoker was a left handed fireballing supplemental first round prodigy: and all things to all men. Then he went 0-4 at Hagerstown, before ending up in the Gulf League. He reported a little tightness in his shoulder and ended up under the knife with a couple of bloody bone spurs rolling around on the shiny steel table beside him. It’ll be interesting to see how he does. The Nats insist that he’ll be ready for spring training. With all the attention on Strasburg, it’s easy to forget Smoker, who’s only 20 . . .  

 

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Tomahawks are on a run — they have won three in a row and 13 of their last 16. Vazquez has carried the team on his arm — in his last four outings he’s 4-0 with a 0.72 ERA. Vazquez and Jair Jurrjens have provided the Braves with an almost unbeatable one-two punch over the last two weeks, just in time to challenge the Rockies. With all the buzz about the L.A. and San Francisco pitching staffs, the troubles with Phuzzy closer and emergent head case Brad Lidge, the oohing and ahhing over Carpenter and Wainwright and the very predictable Gammonization of Dice-K (isn’t he wonderful, isn’t he fantastic, isn’t he just something), Jurrjens has been lost in the chaff. He’s had one bad outing in the last ten games and has the sixth best ERA in baseball. The heat of the September wild card race has made him pitch better: like Vazquez, he’s won three in a row. If you squeeze your eyelids together real tight and furrow your brow and think real hard you can imagine what he might become: he’s 23.

If you’re from my generation (those of us born before the Reformation), it’s hard to think of the Braves as a pitching dependent team. The franchise has a history of breeding legendary sluggers : from Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews to Bob Horner and Chipper Jones. Even when the Braves were bad they could count on the bat of at least one slugger to make headlines — with a Rico Carty or Dale Murphy or Chris Chambliss (or Sarge, for that matter) providing the lumber. Even in the 1990s, when the Braves were on their historic run, the triumverate of Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux were complimented by a trio of titans, all “hitterish” — Chipper and Justice (that bane, that bum) and (of course) Fred McGriff.

But not this year.

The Chops’ top ’09 on base guy is Adam LaRoche (a mid-season acquisition), their dominant long-ball artist is catcher Brian McCann (with a measly 20) and their spark plug is slash-and-burn singles hitter and glove man Martin Prado. Ryan Church, brought aboard to provide some spark (as well as a warm body stand-in for dearly departed Jeff Francoeur — whom the Braves couldn’t wait to dump) is slumping – with just four dingers. Worse yet, the normally dependable Chipper Jones has 17 home runs, well below his average, and is struggling at the plate. Finally, Nate McLouth, the former Ahoy and mid-season “steal,” not only looks average, he is: he’s hitting .264. That leaves the hopes of a post-season pinned firmly on Vazquez, Jurrjens and all-around clutch pitcher and tantrum thrower Derek Lowe. Add rookie phenom Tommy Hanson and a solid bullpen (saves leader Rafael Soriano — and set-up artist Mike Gonzalez) and you can see why Braves’ fans are excited. With a handful-plus games to go the Braves’ll need some help from the suddenly wobbly Rockies, but don’t count ’em out.

100 Losses

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Just before losing a back-and-forth tussle with the Dodgers at Nationals Park on Thursday (final score: 7-6), the Nats front office apparently decided it was time to start preparing for next year. The things-are-looking-up offensive had the distinct odor of being planned to coincide with the Nats’ 100th in-season loss, a kind of Mendoza line for franchise futility. The “let’s talk up the good news” program included an on-line fan exchange featuring Mike Rizzo, a fan appreciation reception just before the Nats game with the Dodgers, a website feature on Ryan Zimmerman’s amazing season, and select “don’t worry, we’re on the right road” post game quotes from Jim Riggleman and company. “I’m just so proud of these guys,” Riggleman said after the Dodgers loss. “With exception of a ballgame or two — from the All-Star break on — we have been outstanding in terms of effort and attitude. Our fans responded to the energy on the field . . .  The Dodgers are going to popping champagne any day and we [are going to be right there soon].”

Well, maybe. Nats fans continue to show up at the ballpark, but Mike and Company shouldn’t be fooled: the team is on a short leash. Good teams are strong up the middle, but successful franchises are characterized by strong front offices. This 100 loss season can be put down to bad pitching and poor play, but Nats fans know that the most chilling aspect of ’09 didn’t take place on the field. Last January (four months to go before opening day) the Nats’ brain trust had already decided that Joel Hanrahan would be the closer, that its young pitchers were ready to carry the team to respectability, that there was no need to sign a strong glove to anchor a shaky infield, that Dmitri Young would return to provide clubhouse leadership — that Lastings Milledge was on his way to stardom. When Jim Bowden resigned as the team G.M., he predicted “a championship season.”

It’s possible to be wrong about a player, to spend too much money signing a prospect, to make a bad trade, to over value a free agent — that happens to the best teams and it’s forgivable. But to pin your hopes on the bats of Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Dmitri Young and the arms of Scott Olsen and Daniel Cabrera is beyond strange. It’s nearly perverse. The Washington Nationals ’09 campaign is a “lost season” not simply because the team lost 100 games (though, there’s that) but because the team spent the first three months of the season building what it should have been building for the last five years: a group of development experts and talent assessors who are capable of being honest about what’s on the field. So let’s not mistake what happened yesterday: the front office of the Washington Nationals decided to divert our attention from what has been happening on the field – and for good reason.

Nats Leave Chad Hanging

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

A heads-up Justin Maxwell stolen base followed by a Pete Orr fly ball to right field in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Nats a 5-4 walk off win against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on Wednesday night. The Nats’ comeback win was sparked by a Ryan Zimmerman three run home run, a shot into the centerfield bullpen off Trolley righthander Chad Billingsley that tied the score at three. Billingsley was into the sixth and pitching a no-hitter until Zimmerman’s blast. It was Zimmerman’s 31st home run and 100th RBI of the season. The Nats went ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t keep the lead — as a shaky outing by closer Mike MacDougal and two Cristian Guzman throwing errors allowed the Dodgers to tie the game in the top of the 9th.

The Nats looked like they were headed for yet another anemic night at the plate, as Billingsley mastered the Anacostia line up with six innings of no hit baseball. But with runners on first and second in the sixth, the suddenly tiring Billingsley was visited by Dodger pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. On the very next pitch — with Zimmerman at the plate – the Dodger righty threw a ball that hung up-and-in on Zimmerman, and ended up over the fence. In all, Billingsley threw six innings, giving up only one hit. It was a masterful if vain performance by the 12-10 Dodger. Nats fans were pleased to discover that they’re not the only ones frustrated by poor defense. An eighth inning fly ball off the bat of Adam Dunn dropped between confused left fielder Manny Ramirez and centerfielder Matt Kemp, while a sure double play bouncer up the middle was thrown wide at first. The miscues sent the Nats into the top of the ninth with a one run lead and a chance to close out the game.

The Nats were actually lucky in the 9th, despite MacDougal’s keep-em-in-the-game pitching and their two errors: two line shots ended the inning with the bases jammed. The Dodgers were only able to score once in the top of the ninth, leaving the score tied at four. In the bottom of the final frame, Justin Maxwell hit a single past a diving Ronnie Belliard into left, was sacrificed to second by Alberto Gonzalez and then stole third. A surprised Trolley catcher Russell Martin threw wide of the bag at third to put Maxwell 90 feet from home. That brought journeyman Pete Orr to the plate. His long fly ball to right — dropped by the usually sure-handed Andre Ethier — won the game.

A New Low, 14-2

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Actually, the game was not as close as the score seemed to indicate. It was worse. Much worse. Livan Hernandez and the Washington Nationals were crushed by the N.L. West leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Nationals Park on Tuesday, 14-2. The Trolleys batted around twice, Livan Hernandez couldn’t make it out of the third inning, and the Nats defense was porous. But the worst news was that the Anacostia Pathetics seemed, and particularly after the third inning, to be going through the motions: with indifferent base running, booted balls, poor outfield play and standing called strikes from a pitcher they should have been able to hit. Adam Dunn hit his 38th. Great, but after that the game was over. “We got beat,” Riggleman said. “They pitched good. We did not have a good night. Livan was not at his best tonight. He has done a great job for us. We received effort from everybody on the field. Everything about our pregame — enthusiasm in the dugout — [was there]. I was not displeased tonight as I was on Sunday. So, we just got beat.”

Really? The Nats received effort from everybody on the field?

Apparently Jim Riggleman didn’t see the same game the 18,000-plus fans at Nats Park saw: in the fourth inning, Josh Willingham failed to hit the cutoff man on a play at the plate, launching a poor throw that skittered to the backstop. It was a rookie mistake from a veteran outfielder who struck out twice and hit into a double play. He looked terrible and was removed after the sixth: putting him out of our misery. In the fifth inning, Willie Harris was caught leaning off third on a ground ball and tagged out in a futile attempt to score — a fielder’s choice 1-5-2 that shouldn’t have happened. Willie said he set goals for himself in September: was one of them to hit .225? In the seventh inning, a slow grounder to first wasn’t fielded and, with Zack Segovia running to cover first Adam Dunn held the ball. Desmond, Dunn and Segovia stood looking at each other: confused. In the eighth, a Jim Thome grounder was bobbled by Ian Desmond. Thome assumed the play was over and (halfway to first) decided not to run; Desmond also assumed the play was over and (holding the ball) decided not to throw. Thomas and Desmond stared at each other until, finally (Ta Da!) Desmond felt that he might just get the out at first. Thome, surprised, thought that he might just run. Incredible.

Maybe headed-to-the-hall lugnut Jim Thome thinks it’s okay to dog a ball in a late season game in front of 18,000 paying fans. Maybe that’s what major leaguers with over 500 home runs at the end of their careers do. But you have to wonder why a rookie who’s done absolutely zero, a player like Ian Desmond, thinks he has the same luxury.

Colletti’s Team

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

There was a time — and not so long ago — that the Los Angeles Dodgers were the best team in the National League, and perhaps the best in baseball. That wasn’t true from the end of July through the first part of September, when the team seemed to struggle to win games and the Redbirds surged. That’s not to say that the Trolleys didn’t win, they did: but hardly at the same rate as in the first four months of the season, when their young pitching staff was the talk of baseball. There were low points, head scratching series that saw the listless Dodgers incapable of mounting their usual barrage of hits, or keeping their starters in games much past the sixth inning: the Trolleys lost three of four to the Redbirds at the end of July, then two of three to the Brewers, then three of four to the Braves. The losses to the Braves were particularly hard to take: they were all at home — and they weren’t even close. It was puzzling. Suddenly, the Trolleys — though sailing along in first place — looked vulnerable. 

Oddly (or perhaps predictably), the struggles of the L.A. Nine seemed to coincide with the return of Manny Ramirez, whose fifty game suspension actually energized the Chavez sluggers, giving new life to replacement Juan Pierre and Joe Torre’s raft of young boppers — particularly Andre Ethier (.283, 31 HRs) and first baseman James Loney (.283, 13 HRs).  Baseball’s community of pundits oohed and ahhed over Manny’s return (noting, and it seemed endlessly), that he remained “the best righthanded hitter in baseball,” but they couldn’t help wondering how the return of Pierre to the L.A. bench would effect Joe Torre’s mix. Good point: for instead of further energizing an already great squad, Manny’s appearance in Dodger Blue seemed to dampen L.A.’s race to the N.L. West title: the streaky Colorado Helton’s gained ground on L.A. and even the light hitting San Francisco McCoveys seemed resurgent.

But over the last two weeks all of that has changed. While the Rockies remain within spitting distance of first place, the Trolleys have reasserted their control over the division — most recently humbling McCovey ace Tim Lincecum. “This club is playing with a purpose right now,” said manager Joe Torre. “They understand what’s out there and what’s at stake and they can’t expect anyone else to do it for them.” A lot of Dodgers point to the resurgence in the team’s pitching as the reason for the Trolleys’ new lease on the N.L. West — former Phuzzie Randy Wolf (11-6) has been a surprise among the starters (he outdueled Lincecum, and made it look effortless), and always-just-average Hiroki Kuroda has been much more than just average — winning his last two outings to give the Dodgers’ staff a needed lift. But the hero of the Dodgers’ latest resurgence (which comes just in time for the playoffs) isn’t anyone on the field. It’s L.A. General Manager Ned Colletti, who put together a series of trade deadline deals that, in retrospect, look nothing nothing less than brilliant.

Vicente Padilla #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second inning at Dodger Stadium on September 1, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

Colletti might as well be working with hammers and saws, particularly considering the renovation job he’s done on the L.A. staff. The trade deadline acquisition of Jon Garland has provided a steadying groundball presence for L.A.’s younger pitchers, while beanball retread Vicente Padilla has provided a much-needed up-and-in intimidator for a group of knee shaking younger guys who love the outside half of the strike zone. Perhaps Colletti’s best decision, however, was the acquisition of former Birdland closer George Sherrill (1.70 ERA) who has become a par excellance set-up man and sometime closer who provides a lights out presence for the L.A. 8th. And that’s not all: the haunting of Washington (Juan Rivera, et. al.) continues with a resurgent Ronnie Belliard, who is hitting the skin off the ball in L.A. Then too, Jim Thome seems more than comfortable in his new role as a lefthanded bat off the bench. Who would have thunk it. Here we are in September, and Joe Torre’s first place team is being led by a bunch of gamers with enough mileage on their cleats to populate a retirement home. When we should be talking about Manny, we’re talking about Jon and Vicente and Ronnie — a passle of veterans who owe their playoff dreams to a G.M. who knows a bargain when he sees one. The L.A. Dodger’s might be Joe Torre’s team, but they’re also Ned Colletti’s.