Curb Your Enthusiasm . . .

. . . because, while the Nationals keep winning in Philly, they still have seven games to play and, no matter what they do, will finish no better than third. We’re not just being killjoys: while it’s wonderful to see our Anacostia Nine play so well (especially at “Nats Park North”), there are some among us who (in the middle of the 7th inning last night — and then again in the 8th) stood up and screamed — “that’s just great, but where were you in June?”

The answer oughta be obvious: trying to find a pitching staff. That the Nats have now won consistently, when it counts the least, is evidence that (finally), that seems to have been done. John Lannan didn’t pitch brilliantly last night, but he fought hard and well (he’s not the same pitcher we saw last year), and a whole handful of other arms have now emerged: Milone and Peacock, and Wang and Detwiler — not to mention Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg (and, just maybe, Livan Hernandez). And those are just the starters.

Then too, the bats have nearly ended their slumber: the Nationals pounded out ten hits last night, which included home runs from Danny Espinosa (his 21st, setting a Nationals rookie record), and the vastly underrated Wilson Ramos (who hit his 14th, which is none too shabby). More importantly, the Nats shook off their disturbing habit of serving tea to men on base — eight were left on base last night, but that number is going down, and they’ve damned near returned to the league mean.

As important (we think) is that the Nationals are now 9-8 against their in-division rivals — with the bonus that Nats fans have started to stream north. That an indication (perhaps), that Nats fans are anticipating what might (might) happen next year. “It’s a fun time,” Danny Espinosa said of his visit to the not-so-friendly confines of The Bank. “It’s a fun game to play against them. I want to play them hard because I know we can beat them. We are showing that. For myself, personally, I enjoy playing against the team.”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: We’ve decided to change the description of the New York Mets — they’re no longer “the chokes.” That description more aptly fits the Atlanta Braves, who barely showed up to play the Marlins last night in Miami, and lost to the stinking Fish. It wasn’t even close. Now they know how it feels. The Braves now lead the Cardinals (who woulda thought — and certainly not us), by a single game and some spit. The Cardinals surprised everyone (including their own fans) and rallied to beat the Mets in St. Louis, 6-5 . . .

This is apparently the year that, rather than simply winning something outright, teams prefer to back into their success. We don’t care what anyone says, the Cardinals are mediocre — the only reason they’re in this thing (apparently) is that the Braves keep insisting that Kevin Lowe (9-16 for God’s sake, and an ERA around five) is actually a starter . . .

Meanwhile, out west, the Braves imitation of The Hindenberg has given the San Francisco Giants new life — kinda — except that now they have to catch not only the Braves for a Wild Card spot, but also the Redbirds. We just can’t shake the feeling: while the D-Backs just keep humming along, their success is more the result of San Francisco’s face plant . . .

So let’s review: the Phillies are coasting (and playing poorly), the Braves are in a free-fall (and have a single starter), the Cardinals are nudging their way in (but don’t have a bullpen), the McCoveys rarely find a way to beat the Dodgers (and have a single bat), and the D-Backs remain a mystery: if two good pitchers and Justin Upton mean a tip-off in the Fall Classic, well then so be it.  That leaves the . . .

Well, that leaves the Brewers — who have emerged as the class of the National League. After a mid-September slump against the Phillies and Cards, the Brewers surged into the lead in the N.L. Central (they’re now 4.5 ahead of the Redbirds) and began to put in sync their power hitters and power pitchers . . .

Forget yesterday — the Brewers have two legitimate contenders for the N.L. MVP (Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder), a gaggle of superb starting arms (Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shawn Marcum, Chris Narveson, and Randy Wolf ), and maybe the best closer around, John Axford. They match up well against Philadelphia, for instance: though we keep talking about their best ever starting staff. Okay, well maybe. But name anyone in the Phillies’ bullpen who’s as good as Axford, we dare you . . .

So we’re sticking with our original prediction (of several weeks ago): the Cardinals can score twenty runs in each of their remaining games, the Braves can clone Warren Spahn, the Phillies can finally get their stuff together and the D-Backs can . . . well, the D-Backs can have Kirk Gibson pinch hit, but the class of the National League is the Milwaukee Brewers, and they have been for some time . . .

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