Archive for the ‘american league east’ Category

Baltimore Barrage Bombs The Nats In 11

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

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An old-fashioned pitchers’ duel that lasted through seven-plus innings pitting Chris Tillman against Stephen Strasburg gave way to an extra inning Baltimore barrage at Nationals Park on Monday night, with the Orioles coming away with an 11 inning 8-2 win in the first of a four game set of the Battle of the Beltways Series.

The Baltimore victory was triggered in the top of the 11th inning in a 2-2 tie game, when the Orioles sent nine batters to the plate against long reliever Craig Stammen. Over the next half inning (though not in this order), the Orioles scored six runs on two singles (from Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley), a Nick Markakis double and home runs off the bats of Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado.

The big score in the 11th came off the bat of the otherwise slumping Chris Davis, who entered the game hitting under .200. “Stammen made some tough pitches, some close pitches,” Davis said after his 11th inning heroics. “I was just able to hang in there.” The Davis home run came on a 3-2 count when Stammen threw the power hitter a fastball that was high in the zone.

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“I really did not think he would be able to hit that pitch out,” Stammen said of the pitch to Davis. “He was right on it and he was looking for it. It was a little bit higher than I wanted.” The Davis round tripper seemed to tip the scales against the Nationals, as the Orioles showed why they’re one of the best hitting teams in the game.

In fact, however, the final score didn’t reflect what a tough, well-played and exciting pitchers’ duel the game was until it went into extra innings. Stephen Strasburg was nearly flawless in his start, throwing seven innings of four hit baseball while striking out nine. Baltimore starter Chris Tillman was nearly as good, matching Strasburg’s seven innings while striking out six.

The O’s and Nats both got on the scoreboard in the same way. Baltimore initial two runs came on a Nelson Cruz home run in the top of the 4th that scored Manny Machado, while the Nats first two runs came off the bat of Anthony Rendon who launched his 12th in the bottom of the 6th. Rendon’s round tripper scored Denard Span.

Manny Machado had a big night for the Orioles, going 5-6 with two RBIs. Nelson Cruz accounted for two more Baltimore runs in a 3-5 night. The big bat for Washington was Anthony Rendon, who was 2-5 and raised his season BA to .284.

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Washington fans have plenty of reason to gripe about the final All Star selections, and gripe they have. A good case can be made that Rafael Soriano should have made the team as a closer ahead of Milwaukee head-case Francisco Rodriguez . . .

Soriano has better numbers than “K-Rod” and stacks up well against Aroldis Chapman, who made the team (in our opinion) more on the basis of his velocity than his 9th inning wizardry. If it were up to us (and of course, it isn’t), we would have removed K-Rod and Chapman and picked Soriano and savvy San Diego stalwart Huston Street . . .

Washington will be under-represented in Minneapolis, with one player on the roster. But the selection of Jordan Zimmerman was both right and obvious — he’s been Washington’s most consistent and feared starter, even given Stephen Strasburg’s latest snazzy numbers . . .

The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore made a strong case for Anthony Rendon being on the team over Matt Carpenter. Our view is that St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny can be justly accused of being a partisan, which we might come to expect from anyone in a Redbirds uniform. Cardinals fans have always struck us as believing that Busch Stadium is the world’s navel with the clydesdales the equivalent of the Bald Eagle . . .

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Nats Rally, But Braves Win In 13

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

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Anthony Rendon’s dramatic 9th inning homer knotted a game at four apiece last night at Nationals Park, but Atlanta prevailed in a 13 inning strike out fest to win their second straight against their in-division rivals, 6-4. The Nats loss and Bravos win edged Atlanta into first place in the National League East.

Atlanta starter Mike Minor was the key for the Braves in the early going, throwing seven innings of seven hit baseball and holding the Nationals to just two runs. In what is becoming a season-long habit, the Nats left four runners in scoring position in four key innings, but couldn’t bring them home.

“He was keeping us off balance,” Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche said of Minor’s outing. “He didn’t get into any patterns. I don’t remember a lot of hitters’ counts. He was getting those early strikes and he was playing around with the offspeed and mixing in some fastballs.”

The Nationals responded to the Braves challenge by sending their own ace to the mound, but while steady righty Stephen Strasburg struck out eight Atlanta hitters, he gave up four earned runs on nine hits through six innings.

The Nationals seemed destined for a loss until Rendon’s 9th inning heroics. After a Nate McLouth walk to lead off the inning against all-world closer Craig Kimbrel, the Atlanta fireballer set down Greg Dobbs and Denard Span. But Rendon, who followed Span to the plate, put a 98 mph Kimbrel fastball into the left field seats to tie the game.

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Rendon’s homer not only lifted the Nationals, it seemed a turning point in what has been Washington’s tradition against Atlanta. The Nationals are 7-20 against the Braves since the start of last season, one of those teams (along with St. Louis) that the team can’t seem to beat when they need to.

The score remained tied at four until the top of the 13th, when the Braves rallied for two runs against Nats reliever Jerry Blevins. Blevins started the inning by walking B.J. Upton, then gave up a single to the heavy hitting Freddie Freeman before giving up a run scoring line drive single to Evan Gattis. Atlanta plated another run on a fielder’s choice grounder from Andrelton Simmons.

Nats skipper Matt Williams remained his usual unflappable self after the defeat, shrugging off Washington’s inability to beat the Braves in big games. Williams focused on the positive — that the Nationals were able to get to Kimbrel.

“We came back against one of the best closers in the game to tie the game. We had an opportunity,” Williams told the D.C. sports press. “We lost it. I’m proud of them for fighting back, staying in it, getting ourselves an opportunity. He doesn’t give up many homers.”

The Nationals seemed over anxious at the plate on Friday, notching an astonishing 17 strikeouts in facing Braves pitching. Jayson Werth struck out four times. Perhaps the team, and Jayson, were over anxious after their anemic three hit performance on Thursday.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: While the Nationals and Braves were running up the Ks (33 in all on Friday), the rest of the league was racking up the homers . . .

After taking an eight run lead against the Blue Jays in Cincinnati (yes, it was 8-0 after two innings), Toronto rallied for three in the 3rd, two in the 6th, one in the 8th and (count ‘em) five in the 9th to down the Reds 14-9 . . .

Cincinnati is the closest thing to a stand-up comedy routine as there is in baseball, and Friday was a classic. The Reds haven’t hit all season, so their fans went nuts when their team scored eight in the bottom of the 2nd. But Toronto (who’s never finished, it seems), rallied on four home runs, two of them from Edwin Encarnacion, the Blue Birds version of Babe Ruth . . .

Prior to their eight run outburst on Friday, the Redlegs were contemplating consigning their bats to a wood chipper. Maybe they should. The Reds are 12th in the league in runs scored and 10th in home runs, despite the presence of Joey Votto & Co. in their line-up. But Cincy rarely faces the likes of the Blue Jays, who hit home runs like we eat peanuts . . .

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Desmond, Strasburg Fell The Giants

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

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The Washington Nationals blasted twelve hits (Ian Desmond had three of them) and Stephen Strasburg tamed San Francisco’s hitters — and the Nats went on to an impressive 9-2 victory over the Giants on Monday night. The nine runs given up by San Francisco pitching was the most they’d allowed all year.

It’s now official: the Nationals are playing better baseball than at any point this year, and better than they have since the end of the 2013 campaign. The key has been outstanding pitching. One day after a complete game shutout from Jordan Zimmermann, ace Stephan Strasburg was able to befuddle Giants’ hitters through six complete innings — giving up just four hits while striking out seven.

The Nationals have now won eight of the last ten games, many of them against top flight National League opponents. But the Nats remain all business: “Tonight is over. We go tomorrow. That’s all we can concentrate on is tomorrow,” Nats’ skipper Matt Williams said following his team’s impressive win.

The Nationals scored on Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the first inning, with doubles from Denard Span and Jayson Werth, then scored again in the second on a Wilson Ramos single and an Ian Desmond triple. Desmond accounted for two more RBIs in the top of the third, on a single that scored Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

Then the Nationals poured it on, scoring five runs in the top of the 7th, highlighted by an Ian Desmond double that scored Ryan Zimmerman and Wilson Ramos. By then, the Nationals were into the Giants’ bullpen, with Vogelson chased from the game after six innings. Vogelson gave up six earned runs on the night.

“They have some good hitters in that lineup and they’ve been on a roll,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said following the Washington win. “They played well in San Diego, swung the bats well in a tough park to hit in, so they came in here with a lot of confidence. [Vogelsong] was a little bit off and when you find a team that’s hot with the bats, they’re probably going to take advantage of some pitches that are elevated there, and they did.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The worst-to-first World Champion Boston Red Sox have an outside shot of going from worst-to-first-to-worst, the only thing saving them is the implosion of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox are struggling, and have settled in at ten games back of the Blue Jays in the A.L. East and seven games under .500 . . .

Last night in Baltimore, the Sox showed why their 2014 campaign doesn’t resemble anything that happened last year. Facing the O’s Bud Norris, the Beantowners managed only three hits, while the Orioles lit them up with three homes runs. The final 4-0 tab wasn’t a laugher, but the game just wasn’t that close . . .

The Red Sox are streaky. We wrote them off when they lost ten straight, but then counted them back in when they won seven in a row. Then they lost three in a row in Cleveland. Streaky? Maybe it would be better to describe them as inconsistent: and there are plenty of reasons to use the word . . .

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Roark Defrocks The Friars (Again)

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

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We would say that Washington righty Tanner Roark seems to pitch his best against the Padres, but there’s no seems about it. In two starts against San Diego this season, Roark has allowed six hits in seventeen scoreless inning — winning successive games. Last night Roark was once again masterful, throwing eight complete innings of three hit baseball, as the Nationals downed San Diego, 6-0.

“Same thing he showed over in Washington,” Padres manager Bud Black said in referring to Roark’s last outing against his team. “Mixed his pitches, changed his speeds, commanded his fastball a little bit different than in his start in Washington. In Washington, he used his curveballs, more changeups.”

The Nationals are on a roll, despite accumulating only six hits last night. As it turned out, with Roark on the mound, that would be all they needed. The big blast against the Padres last night came off the bat of Anthony Rendon, who crushed his ninth round tripper of the season in the first inning.

Despite the lopsided score, San Diego’s Tyler Ross (a converted reliever), pitched well after the rough first inning. Ross has a snappy 3.22 ERA on the season and has thrown well on a staff that is fourth in the league in ERA. Ross began the year with an impressive eight inning performance against the Giants, holding them to just three hits while spinning a shutout.

The Nationals have won four in a row and six of their last seven and are creeping towards first place in the National League East. The Nationals are just one game back of the Braves and are tied for second with the Marlins.

“We are feeling good. We are feeling strong,” Roark said after his victory. “Everybody is hitting. Pitchers are pitching. We are putting together quality starts. The relievers are coming in and shutting down [hitters] when they need to come in. We are playing good team baseball.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Orioles are a scrappy bunch, which is good — because in facing the seemingly unconscious Oakland A’s, they’d better be. The A’s own the best record in the American League (38-23) and the best road record in baseball (at 21-11). They have made it look effortless . . .

Last night in Baltimore, the Orioles had their foot on the A’s necks, but couldn’t close the deal. It wasn’t for want of trying. Tied at 3-3 with two outs in the 10th inning, Nelson Cruz attempted a steal of home, taking advantage of an A’s infield shift against hitter Chris Davis. But Oakland reliever (and former National) Fernando Abad maintained his poise and threw Cruz out at the plate . . .

For the record, a steal of home is hard to score (attempted steal, and 1-2, yes . . .), because the data, simplified on the pages of a scorebook, never conveys the true drama of the play. That must be why the Sporting News this morning described Cruz’s attempt as a miserable failure. A failure, yes. But “miserable?” Don’t you believe it. Another foot off of third and Cruz would have won the game . . .

“Saw it, felt it, went for it, didn’t work out,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said of the Cruz attempt.

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The attempted steal was the second time that an Orioles runner was snuffed out at the plate. On the previous play, outfielder Brandon Moss threw out a sprinting Nick Markakis who rounded third with a clear lead on the baseball. Moss’s throw was a classic one bounce to the catcher. Oooohhhhh . . . .

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Nats Sweep Philadelphia Behind Fister, LaRoche

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

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Righty starter Doug Fister and first sacker Adam LaRoche combined to lead the Nationals to a 4-2 victory over the reeling Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday afternoon at Nationals Park. The win marked a sweep of the Nats three game series with Philadelphia, and brought the team to within a glance of first place in the National League East.

This was Fister’s fifth quality outing in a row; the righty now boasts a 3-1 record to go along with his snappy 3.34 ERA. The Phillies looked lost against the righty, though they scored an early first inning run to take a 1-0 lead on their division rivals. Fister threw just 93 pitches, 63 of them for strikes.

Nationals hitters, meanwhile, gave Fister a lead to work with, victimizing hard luck Philadelphia starter Kyle Kendrick — who has had a down year. The difference in the game was a 5th inning home run off the bat of Adam LaRoche (his eighth of the year), which scored Jayson Werth.

Washington skipper Matt Williams decided to rest shortstop Ian Desmond in the match-up with the Phillies, which meant he penciled in an unusual line-up. The suddenly hot Danny Espinosa (4-2o in the three game series), played shortstop, Anthony Rendon shifted to second, while Kevin Frandsen filled in at third. Ryan Zimmerman once again started in left field.

The Nationals bullpen was, once again, lights out. Tyler Clippard pitched a one-two-three eighth inning, while Rafael Soriano untucked his jersey after notching his twelfth save. Nationals relievers thus reinforced their reputation as the best in the game.

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The sweep of the Phillies concluded a scheduled nine game homestand for Washington (the Nationals actually played eight, as their May 27 tilt with the Marlins was postponed), which started with two losses against Miami – the clear lowpoint in the Nationals’ season thus far.

But after the Miami disappointment the Nationals have righted their listing ship. The Nationals took two of three games from the Rangers before their Philadelphia sweep, with two of those games decisive triumphs in which the Nationals scored nine and then ten runs. “This is the team we expected to see when the season started,” MASN commenter Bob Carpenter noted during today’s game.

The difference between today and last week, when the Nationals were pummeled by the Marlins, couldn’t be more stark. Since the return of Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals have been hitting the ball and scoring runs — and have benefited from stellar outings from their pitching staff. That includes gems from Jordan Zimmerman (an eight inning outing on Tuesday) and Stephen Strasburg — who threw seven innings while notching 11 strikeouts last night.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Nationals drew an impressive 33,016 for today’s late afternoon wrap-up game against the Ashburns. That’s an impressive number, particularly because the avalanche of Philadelphia fans that once filled the park is now a fading memory. The Phillies, perennially in the top five in N.L. attendance, are now having difficulty drawing fans. They are barely outdrawing the Nationals in attendance per game . . .

Attendance is often the best gauge for MLB business success, along with television revenue. No surprise: the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays remain in the bottom five, despite the exciting team that Miami has put on the field. Miami just concluded their sweep of the now hapless Rays in Tampa Bay, where the Rays drew an embarrassing 49,000 fans for the three game cross-state match-up . . .

We might say that the fans of the Rays are voting with their feet (as they clearly are in Philadelphia), but the team has always struggled to put customers in the seats. The Rays drew a paltry 1.5 million fans last year, when they finished at 92-71, good enough for a Wild Card birth . . .

The Tampa Bay attendance figures are likely to get worse. The Rays are now 23-37 and 13.5 games behind the Blue Jays in the A.L. East. On Tuesday they were shut out by Miami’s Henderson Alvarez, 1-0. Sure. Alvarez is a heckuva pitcher, but the Rays are a punchless bunch: 13th in the A.L. in batting average and dead last in runs scored . . .

Tampa Bay gets little help from their starters, with a rotation eviscerated by injuries. Jeremy Hellickson is now on the disabled list, Alex Cobb has been sidelined and uber thrower Matt Moore is out for the year after Tommy John surgery. With youngster-slugger Wil Myers (the ur-prospect swiped from K.C.), also ailing, Tampa Bay has to rely on a middle of the line-up of sluggers who aren’t slugging . . .

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Rendon, Fister Lead The Nats, 10-2

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

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Anthony Rendon was 4-5 with one of Washington’s four home runs and righty starter Doug Fister mastered the Texas Rangers as the Nationals went on to pummel Texas, 10-2 at Nationals Park on Saturday. This was the second successive win over Texas in as many days, as the Nationals seem to have finally found where the trainers keep the bats.

The Nationals pumped out 12 hits and four round trippers against three Texas pitchers, including starter Nick Tepesch — who gave up four runs and seven hits in just two innings of work. The Nationals four home runs came off the bats of Rendon, as well as Jose Lobaton (in the 2nd), Adam LaRoche (his seventh of the year, in the 4th) and Scott Hairston, who put a Scott Baker offering in the left field seats in the 6th.

Fister, meanwhile, was masterful. After a shaky debut, the former Detroit ace has had four successive solid outings. Today he threw six complete innings while giving up only four hits, lowering his 2014 ERA to 3.34 on the year. Fister threw 104 pitches, 69 of them for strikes while inducing nine ground ball outs.

“He’s got the ability to work quickly, which certainly helps your defense,” Nats manager Matt Williams said of Fister’s outing. “They expect the ball to be put in play.” Fister was helped in the field by a backhanded gem from Anthony Rendon in the second inning — which is sure to make the “Web Gems” segment of Baseball Tonight.

The Nationals’ have scored 24 runs and stroked 42 hits over their last three games and have outscored the Rangers 19-4 in the last two games. And everyone is hitting: “This was huge to build off of, to know that we can go out there and get more than five or six hits a game and just keep pouring it on,” Nats first sacker Adam LaRoche said. “That’s what the really good teams do.”

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Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The Orioles have spent the last three games facing off against the red hot Houston Astros — that’s right, the red hot Astros. Last night, in the annual Civil Rights game, the O’s squandered a stellar pitching performance from starter Miguel Gonzalez, who took a no hitter into the 6th . . .

Friday’s game was a coulda. woulda, shoulda: if the O’s could have just found some hitting, they would have and should have won the game. Instead, Gonzalez exited with a 2-1 deficit which held up for Houston’s sixth straight win. And the crowd at Minute Maid Park went crazy — primarily because the suddenly torrid ‘Stros hadn’t won six in a row since . . . well, forever . . .

The Nationals know all about what ails the O’s: Baltimore has recently been incapable of putting men on base, and when they have they’ve been downright pathetic at bringing them in. The night prior to Gonzalez’s outing, Baltimore dropped a 3-1 decision to Houston while going 1-15 with runners in scoring position . . .

Welcome to our world . . .

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“They Are Awful . . .”

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

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“They are awful . . .” MLB Network’s Christopher Russo says of the Nationals. Of course, this is Russo (the host of “High Heat” — his daily baseball shout) and so perhaps we might take his words with a pinch (or a pound) of salt: he is a a commenter who relies for his own analysis on the verdict of others. But the question is not about whether Russo is in a position to assess, but whether he’s right.

Honestly, he is. Exhibit #1 was presented on Wednesday night, when the Nationals fell (8-5 in 10 innings) to the very average Miami Marlins. This was an exercise in futility that has become familiar to Nats fans. The Nationals are second from the bottom in driving in runs with men on base: only the Cubs are worse. On Wednesday, the Nats loaded the bases in the 8th (with no outs) and scored zero runs. They left 28 on base. That’s two-dash-eight.

(The number cited above of 28 LOB is from the Nats website. The number according to the box score on the ESPN website is 15, the number according to the CBS box score is 25 and the number according to Yahoo’s baseball site is 26. Both CBS and Yahoo omit two LOB during the at bats of Denard Span. The numbers include an astonishing 8 left on base for the at bats of Anthony Rendon.)

The Nationals have now lost six of seven, sunk to two games under .500 and are behind the Marlins in the N.L. Least. Worse yet, there’s no hope for relief anytime soon. Ryan Zimmerman is still a ways away from returning, Bryce Harper probably won’t be here until after the All Star break and no one else (including Anthony Rendon — the Nats’ former best hitter) is actually hitting.

“This is just a test for us,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said after Wednesday’s loss, “to see where we’re at mentally, see how bad we want to grind our way out of it and get back in this division. It could always be worse.” Right. Or, maybe not. For while there’s a chance that while this is the low point of the Nationals’ 2014 campaign, it might not be. Or rather, things almost certainly will get worse if the Nationals continue to play as they have.

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The salvation for a team that can’t hit is good pitching, and the Nationals (we’re told) have that in spades. Or do they? Gio Gonzalez has been on the disabled list since May 18, Tanner Roark has been a semi-dependable up-and-down, and Jordan Zimmermann is such a puzzle that Nationals Journal led off their coverage of him with a headline that we might have written: “What’s Going On With Jordan Zimmermann?

Last night, Zimmermann lasted all of five innings and gave up eight hits. True — anyone can have a bad game. But Wednesday’s less than stellar (or even mediocre) outing was his fifth in a row. Zimmermann hasn’t lasted past the sixth inning since April 19, which was seven games ago.

It seems now, at the end of May (one-third of the way into the season), that the only dependable starter the Nationals have is Stephen Strasburg. But while Stras pitches well (and even, at times, brilliantly), the Nationals don’t score runs when he’s on the mound. Strasburg has pitched into the 7th (and beyond) in each of his last six starts, but has little to show for it.

We noted in Tuesday’s posting that the Nationals are nearly unbeatable when they score more than four runs, and now we have to correct ourselves. They scored five last night (right on time, it seems, to negate our point) and came away losers. And, of course, the problem on Wednesday vs. the Marlins was that the Nats bullpen collapsed — enough of a rarity this season to be unheard of.

But not anymore.

Good pitching always beats good hitting, as everyone says, but mediocre hitting and mediocre pitching will yield a team that is what the Nats have become, a middle-of-the-pack sub-.500 team looking for answers. What the Nationals really need, of course, is a power hitter who gets on base — who actually scares the bejesus out of opposing pitchers.

For some reason, whenever we think of hitting we think of Nelson Cruz, the former Ranger-turned-Oriole who spent the first part of this year reviving his career — and launching the Ripkens into contention in the A.L. East. Now there’s the kind of hitter the Nationals need. The only question is, where would you put him?

The Orioles can pencil in Cruz in a semi-crowded outfield because of the D.H., a luxury the Nationals don’t enjoy. And so it is: the Nationals will search and search for a hitter and decide that the team just needs to get hot (we’re not impressed, by the way, that Nate McLouth was 4-4 last night) or wait for the return of their real hitters (Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper) from rehab.

Which is to say that while the Nationals are (in fact) awful, the answers they’ll find are probably right in front of them. Which means that the team’s fans will just have to put up with this, at least until it’s obvious that it’s simply not working. The bad news is that, by then, it might be too late.

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