Archive for the ‘atlanta braves’ Category

Atlanta Burns Nats

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

There were two pieces of bad news on Tuesday: the first was the Nats lefty Scott Olsen couldn’t make it out of the 6th inning against the Braves in Atlanta, the second was that Josh Willingham may be out for the season. While the second piece of news was assuredly worse than the first (Willingham will almost certainly undergo surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee), Olsen’s failure to tame the Braves (the Nats lost ugly — 10-2) emphasized again the pitching woes that have faced the Anacostia Nine throughout the 2010 campaign. Little relief seems in sight: Jordan Zimmermann may not start for Washington until September, Jason Marquis continues to struggle and the combo of Livan and “the kid” has yet to result in serial wins.

But the most recent reward for frustration goes to Olsen, who was angered by Jim Riggleman’s decision to send him to the bench. While Riggleman retained his reputation for wielding an early hook, Olsen glared at him, stalked off the mound, yelled into his glove on the way to the dugout and then threw his leather angrily when he arrived. Olsen had no comment on Riggleman’s liberal hook, but the Nats skipper didn’t hesitate to defend his decision: “It was 2-0 and now it’s a homer, triple, walk with nobody out,” Riggleman said after the game. “Ole had done a great job. But as great as he was, he lost it that quickly. When you get a couple of runs, you have to minimize the damage. I just felt that our bullpen has a done great job. With the right-hander facing the right-handed hitters, maybe we could get a zero from that point on or maybe just one run. It just appeared to me that [Olsen] wasn’t pitching the same he was in the first few innings.”

The Nats will face the Braves again tonight, with innings eater and starting ace Livan Hernandez scheduled to face off against the normally lights-out Tim Hudson.

Hudson Too Tough For Nats

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

While the rest of baseball talks about the brilliance of Ubado Jimenez, the power of Tim Lincecum, the sheer speed of Josh Johnson and the savvy of Chris Carpenter, Braves fans have consistently extolled the virtues of Tim Hudson — who they claim should be in the running for the N.L. Cy Young Award. On Tuesday night the Nats found out why. Using a mix of up-in-the-zone fastballs and well-placed sinkers, the Braves righty subdued the Nationals in pitching his team to a 3-1 victory at Nats Park. Hudson is now 10-1 in his career against Washington. “For whatever reason, I’ve been able to go out and throw the ball pretty well against these guys and make pitches,” Hudson said of his mastery of the Nats. “It’s not to say next time I pitch against these guys I won’t be backing up third all night. But it does feel good to know you have a history with some success against a team, just for your confidence.”

How good is Hudson? From July of ’08 until just two weeks ago, Hudson reeled off a string of 27 consecutive quality starts. Nats fans might remember that, in one of the best pitching match-ups of the year (at Nats Park at the end of June), Hudson and Stephen Strasburg went head-to-head, with Hudson and the Braves ending up on top. In that duel, Strasburg provided 6.1 innings of stellar hurling, throwing 92 pitches, 57 of them for strikes. Hudson was better, and a model of what everyone here thinks Strasburg could become — Hudson threw 113 pitches, 73 of them for strikes. In that game, Hudson’s two seam sinker led to 12 groundouts, which is exactly the same number that he got last night. “His sinker is so good that you have to respect it,” Adam Dunn said after last night’s loss. “When he’s throwing it down and throwing it for strikes, it’s a long day like it was today.”

Miss Iowa Asks: We don’t usually participate in these kinds of things, but what-the-heck. Since Miguel Batista’s ill-fated comment on his surprise outing against the Braves on Monday (“Imagine,” he said, “if you go there to see Miss Universe — and you end up having Miss Iowa”), we’ve come up with our own ideas on an appropriate role for the pride of Bettendorf (A Premier City and home of “The Bulldogs“) — Katherine Conners. Since Batista has been invited to be a judge at the next “Miss Iowa” beauty pagaent, it seems only appropriate that “Katie” come to Washington to throw out the first pitch in a ballgame, with Miguel catching. That might bring in a fan or two. Katie could then sit-in for Rob Dibble in the MASN broadcast booth (“spontaneous demonstrations broke out in Oceana today”) and (since she’s thrown “a pitch or two”), add her two cents on what Jim Riggleman might do to improve the team’s play. MASN could promote it as a “new segment” for their broadcast. They could call it “Miss Iowa Asks.”

Katie would undoubtedly have the same questions we do: “Now, Mr. Riggleman (ooooh, you are a handsome man), but I mean why do you insist on starting Willie Harris? I mean, gee willikers, Mr. Harris is a nice man and all (okay, a little short but anyway, nevermind, I mean, well, nevermind), but as I understand it he’s hitting below some kind of line and that’s not good. Anyway, I mean criminy you can just bet that the coach of the Bettencourt Bulldogs wouldn’t start Willy. No siree. He’d start that nice handsome boy Michael Morse, I’d just bet that that’s what he’d do. Totally. I mean, Michael is totally rad. You know, I’ve noticed, that Michael Morse can really stroke the ball (is that the phrase, I can’t remember, oh well, but he’s a way better hitter), and really Mr. Riggleman we need to do something. I mean, I like Mr. Harris and all — oh, and that reminds me: is he a relative of yours? Because this is getting grodie. He’s hitting .184. .184! I mean, duh. Because I don’t understand (and I know, I don’t really know as much as you do) why in blue blazes (oops, sorry, I didn’t mean to say that) that you’d start him. Oh well, anyway. Whatever. I mean, I don’t want to be a stressorama or anything, but you know. Why? Why start Willie Harris? You think he’s going to get better. I mean, like, no way. And that’s all I have to say — I mean, like whatever.”

Batista Is No “Miss Iowa,” But . . .

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

He’s Plenty Good Enough: Journeyman Miguel Batista got the nod last evening when Mike Rizzo pulled Stephen Strasburg from his starting role due to shoulder stiffness. The 40,000-plus fans at the ballpark, had they had their eyes closed, might not have noticed the difference. Batista gave up just three hits in five innings with six strikeouts and only one walk as he led the Nats to a 3-0 win over the Braves.

At first greeted by the boo birds when his name was announced as starting pitcher in place of Strasburg, he left the fans smiling when he departed after the fifth frame. In a post-game interview he was asked about the chorus of boos but Batista was nonplused.  “Imagine if you go to see Miss Universe, then you end up having Miss Iowa,” he said,  “you might get those kind of boos.” I’m not sure Miss Iowa gets many boos, but we’ll take his point.

Batista hadn’t started a game since his dismal 2008 season in Seattle when he went 4 – 14. Often times when little is expected of you the pressure is off and good things can happen. Such was the case last night when the 39-year-old took the ball, ate some innings and gutted out a win. The DR native is on the last legs of a 16-year career but on one beautiful night in Washington he recaptured the form that helped lead the 2001 D-Backs to the Series.

Miami Vice: Nats Can’t Score

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals succumbed to their own lack of production, falling to the Florida Marlins 1-0 on Sunday in Miami. The loss squandered the team’s opportunity to back the stellar pitching of starter Craig Stammen, who held the Marlins to one run in six innings of work. The inconsistent Stammen, who seems to be on-again and off-again, put in one of his best pitching performances of the year, keeping the ball down in the zone against the befuddled Marlins’ hitters. Stammen threw 98 pitches, 62 of them for strikes. His only trouble came in the 5th, when he gave up successive doubles. Joel Peralta finished out the game, providing his by-now usual in-the-strike-zone relief effort. But as was the case on Saturday, Nationals’ hitters could not seem to solve Florida’s pitching: Washington rapped out eight hits, but their celebrated middle of the line-up heavyweights were a combined 2-9, stranding an embarrassing 11 runners. The Nats now head to Cincinnati to face the surging Reds. Duck.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: MASN play-by-play man, Bob Carpenter, informed his viewing audience on Sunday that he’d been told by Marlins’ beat reporters that ex-Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez was “absolutely not” fired because of his troubles with Hanley Ramirez. According to Carpenter’s discussions, Gonzalez was fired because Marlins’ owner Jeff Loria knew that Fredi was headed to Atlanta to take over for the dearly departing Bobby Cox at the end of the season. So (we are led to believe) Loria thought for a minute and decided ‘why not make a change now?’ Moreover, Carpenter added, the reason that Bobby Valentine (lined up to be the new Marlins’ manager), wasn’t hired is because he insisted in bringing his own set of coaches to Miami — while Loria wanted him to retain the Gonzalez crew. The deal fell through.

I don’t doubt that Carpenter was told by the Miami press that Fredi Gonzalez was not (“absolutely not,” as Carpenter emphasized) fired for benching Hanley Ramirez (as we speculated, here), and I don’t doubt for a minute that Marlins beat reporters actually believe that. And, in fact, it may well be that Gonzalez wasn’t fired over the Ramirez incident. That’s quite possible. But we (we here at CFG) will insist on this: anyone who believes that Gonzalez was fired (suddenly, surprisingly, and summarily) because he planned to go to Atlanta (news to me) during the off season is simply buying Jeff Loria’s line. Or defending Hanley Ramirez. Or something. That said, the other part of the story (that Valentine wasn’t hired because he wouldn’t retain the Marlins coaching staff), makes sense. But it’s the only part of the story that does . . .

We’ve had a bit of this lately. When Omar Infante was named to the All Star team, fans were a more than a little puzzled. But not the “MLB Network” cheering section, or the guys at “Baseball Tonight,” who spent their time telling us what a great player Omar is — despite not having the requisite number of at-bats to be taken seriously. Infante shoved aside Joey Votto, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks and Adam Dunn (whose home run totals led the NL), who actually play every game. Infante doesn’t. He’s a utility man, pinch hitter and filler. When he got the call from Atlanta GM Frank Wren that he’d made the team, he expected the worst: that he’d been tradedto Toronto. Never mind: the guys at BT and MLB Network were in the bag for Infante, telling all of us morons what a terrific ballplayer he is. Listen, Tim Kurkjian is right, no one should blame Infante for getting picked, but please, please, don’t try to sell us the line that Omar Infante (good family man, nice guy and all that) is a really good player who deserved it. If that was really true (if Infante deserved to be on that field instead of — say –  Adam Dunn), there wouldn’t have been any controversy . . .

Facing The “Amazins”

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The Nats continued to struggle on the road, suffering a 4-1 road loss in Atlanta on Wednesday. The defeat was yet further evidence that the Nationals downward spiral is for real — that the early season hope that the Rizzo and Riggleman’s Nine could contend in the NL East, or at least play .500 ball, has now faded. The deep funk seems puzzling to Nats players, who regularly cite the team’s talent as an indication that things will improve. “We need something,” first baseman Adam Dunn said in the wake of yesterday’s loss at Turner Field. “We’re not playing up to our capabilities, and I don’t know why that is. It’s not for a lack of effort, a lack of talent, any of that. I don’t know.”

For the most part, as Dunn seems to imply, the Nats have been victimized by themselves — with a lack of steady pitching (excepting for those who pitch into those who pitch into the 7th, as Craig Stammen did on Tuesday), good hitting (the entire team, with the exception of Dunn, is slumping), poor fielding (the Nats are last in defense), and indifferent and confounding base running — as evidenced by Nyjer Morgan’s continuing inability to read the pick off moves of opposing pitchers. What to do? What to do? What to do? It’s hard to imagine the Mike Rizzo would thoughtlessly scramble to stop the bleeding, but the escalation in trade talk is a signal, and a fairly significant one, that the front office is beginning to search for a solution outside of Syracuse or Harrisburg.

The House That Jose Built: The Mets have provided New York with a history of spotty but triumphant success that has, admittedly, provided some memorable moments — the 1969 “Miracle Mets” and the 1986 “we beat Boston” Mets.  Even so, the Mets are New York’s second team, bearing no resemblance to the New York Siths, who regularly lug home the World Series trophy. This anguish was on full display in ’08 and ’09, as the Mets collapsed and then underperformed. It was no wonder that baseball’s gurus had doubts that the 2010 version of the Mets would follow suit: the front office seemed in chaos, with GM Omar Minaya pleading the case that signing Jason Bay (and only Jason Bay) was the right decision. Now, as it turns out, Minaya knew something we didn’t — that the Mets had enough pieces in place to contend in the NL East, and perhaps well into the post season.

Here are the pieces: a revived Mike Pelfrey (10-1, 2.93 ERA), slap-and-power first baseman Ike Davis (.261, 9 HR), a surprisingly uninjured Angel Pagan (steady defense, good speed, .304 BA) some guy named R.A. Dickey (6-1, 1.29 WHIP), a solid enough bullpen and (if that is still not enough) a good-enuf Jason Bay and a reanimated hit-homers-the-other- way, David Wright. All of this makes up for the team’s other struggles: fans are worried that Johan Santana will remain inconsistent and that the Mets will not be able to fight their way through holes on the left side, behind the plate and on the mound in the middle innings. But the real key to the Amazin’s amazing early season of success is Jose Reyes. The evidence that Reyes is the key to the team is non-statistical and purely intuitive: without him the Lords of Flatbush look like the peasants of Queens.

For more than a year, Reyes has battled an assortment of injuries, the most recently a high profile thyroid problem that apparently barred him from so much as working out. Before that it was a “cranky hamstring” that simply wouldn’t heel, leading to worries that the fleet-footed shortstop might be permanently slowed. But Reyes has come back this year with his patented passion for the game and eternally smiling countenance. He seems to have returned to the form that once made him the most talked about man in baseball, and a leading candidate for best shortstop in New York. He threatens to do what no other Mets player can do: turn Mets haters into proto fans, those who watch the Metropolitans just to see him play. In spite of his very good (but not great) stats, Reyes — not Bay, not Dickey, not Santana — is the symbol of these Mets. He went 0-7 during the mid-April marathon against the Cardinals: he notched the game winning RBI and scored a run and was ecstatic after the game. “I’m ready for tomorrow,” he said. The Nationals will take on the Metropolitans starting tonight at Nationals Park.

Stammen Buries The Hatchets

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Craig Stammen, just recalled from the Nats Syracuse Triple-A farm club, threw seven innings of brilliant baseball and super sub Alberto Gonzalez went 4-4 as the skidding Nats ended their five game losing streak with a 7-2 win in Atlanta. Stammen finally mastered what had been bothering him in successive starts prior to his demotion — he kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes, keeping the Bravos hitters off balance. Stammen threw 99 pitches, 57 of them for strikes, before giving way to Sean Burnett in the 8th inning. “Craig was just outstanding,” skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. And the skipper praised Alberto Gonzalez, who looked rusty at the plate on Monday. “He’s a great fielder,” Riggleman said, “and he can hit a little too.” This marked the second successive start for Gonzalez, who has done some spot pinch hitting. But Riggleman was uncertain whether the Gonzalez start was the beginning of a new trend. “He’s kind of the fourth guy among four guys, so it’s tough for him to get playing time,” Riggleman said.

In breaking loose for seven runs, the Nats end a despairing streak of one, two and three run games that saw them sink further into last place in the NL East. Relief seems to be in sight: Nyjer Morgan’s bat is finally heating up (he was 2-5 on Tuesday), Josh Willingham put one into the seats at Turner Field (his 14th), Ryan Zimmerman plated two RBIs — and then there was Alberto Gonzalez, whose 4-4 stint brought his BA to .292: oh, and he can field a little bit too. To cap it all off, Roger Bernadina is starting to look like a keeper (slapping balls to left field) and Tyler Clippard pitched a nifty clean 9th. The news gets even better from there. The Nats went errorless in nine innings, which must be some kind of record.

Today I Settle All Family Business, So Don’t Tell Me You’re Innocent: If you google “The Kid,” you get sites for a Charlie Chaplan movie, news that Angelina Jolie’s little girl wants to be a boy (“she likes to wear boy’s everything,” Angelina poofed), and a reach on Ted Williams who, it seems, was called “the kid” until someone thought of something better — like “The Splendid Splinter.” (Which reminds me: wasn’t Gaylord Perry once referred to as “The Splendid Spitter?” No? Okay, maybe not). But nowhere on the internet does anyone talk about our Anacostia Nine who, it is reported, are calling Stephen Strasburg “the kid” in the privacy of the Nats’ clubhouse. We’re betting the name will stick, confirming Angelina’s little pout about “Shiloh,” who “thinks she’s one of the brothers.”

Stephen’s nickname confirms that he too (and for sure) is now one of the Nats brothers (that’s what being given a nickname means) — albeit without the apparent transgender issues of Shiloh Vomit Pitt. And it’s a good thing. Strasburg took the heat after his Monday outing, as Braves fans everywhere (there aren’t as many as there once were for “America’s Team“) laid into “the kid” for giving up five runs (er, three earned) in the 7th inning of Monday night. Even some Nats fans were disappointed. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God — what happened? So here’s the deal: we here at CFG have taken a poll of our staff (final vote? 3-0) and determined that we would take, any day, an outing from any pitcher on our staff who could throw 6.1 (!), give up three earned runs (!), and strike out seven. You never know, if we have outings like that every game, we could actually win the division. Yeah, there’s no question about it, Monday’s performance shows that we need to send “the kid” to the minors to “straighten out his stuff” and “build his self confidence.”

Say It Ain’t So Mike: The Nats are apparently “entertaining offers” . . . no, that’s not the right phrase. Damn. Let’s start over. The Nats are “actively considering” … no, that’s not right either. Okay. Here it is. The Nats are talking to at least two teams about a trade that would involve Nats first sacker and potential All Star Adam Dunn, the heart and soul of your Washington Nationals (if you don’t count Ryan Zimmerman, Pudge Rodriguez, Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez . . .). The report must be true: MLB Trade Rumors has it by way of Ken Rosenthal, who has it from the Chicago Sun Times, who has it from the White Sox.

The Angels are already interested, Rosenthal says, and Joe Cowley of the Greatest Newspaper in the Greatest City in America (it’s ahead of the Trib, dontchaknow), says that the Nats and Pale Hose are exchanging names, though the Sox don’t have much to give in the way of pitching prospects — they were all traded to the Little Monks from San Diego for Jumpin’ Jake Peavy. No one likes this kind of talk, least of all Adam Dunn, who doesn’t want to be a DH and likes it just fine here in D.C.  We like him here too, Mike — as he is headed for another season of 40 home runs (oops, he had only 39 last year) and is one of the surprises, perhaps the surprise on the team: unlike the other nine we slap together to play the Baltimore Pathetics, he’s fielding his position like a pro. And who would have guessed that? Then too, don’t we have enough pitching prospects? I know, let’s try Danny Cabrera. In fact, the only positive thing we could really gain from such a trade is an end to that obnoxious public address announcer and his “now batting for your Washington Nationals …. Adaaaam Dunnnnnn.” Hey, on second thought . . .

Nats Take Series From Braves

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The Nationals, inexperienced enough to have trouble winning one-run and extra-inning games, triumphed in a bottom-of-the-ninth, walk-off win on Thursday, downing the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Willie Harris knocked in the winning run with the bases loaded, putting a Peter Moylan offering past Braves’ second baseman Martin Prado. Harris felt vindicated after the win, getting back at a team that had non-tendered him in 2007. But the story of the night was the near no-hitter from Nats starter Scott Olsen, whose electric stuff baffled Tomahawk hitters until the top of the eighth. “I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t thinking about it,” Olsen said of his chance for a no-no. “I was thinking about it early. I thought about it in the fourth and fifth innings. It’s one of those things where it’s real hard to do. I wasn’t positive I was going to do it, but I was thinking about it.”

The Nats victory gave the Anacostia Nine the series win against the Braves — with the team now standing at 15-13 for the season. That’s good enough for second place in the NL East, just two games back of the Phillies. The Braves head to Philadephia, where the Phillies’ powerhouse is well aware of Atlanta’s troubles on the road. The Braves are having trouble scoring, with nearly everyone in the line-up in an early season slump, with second sacker Martin Prado the exception. Outside of Wednesday’s 7-6 win at Nats Park, the Braves had trouble with Nats’ pitching, scoring just four runs in the other two outings. The Nats will face their NL East nemesis, the Florida Marlins, starting tonight at Nationals Park. Craig Stammen is set to pitch for the Nats; he will be facing Marlins’ hurler Chris Volstad, who shut down the Nationals in Florida just last week.

Remembering Robin Roberts: Philadelphia Phillies’ ace and Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Roberts put together a string of six 20-win seasons in his career, and pitched for the Phillies’ ‘Whiz Kids” pennant winning team of 1950. He was the NL’s premier pitcher in the first half of the 1950s. He compiled a 286-245 record with 2,357 strikeouts, a 3.41 ERA and 45 shutouts. He pitched an amazing 305 complete games.The Phillies will be wearing a #36 patch on their uniforms for the rest of the season commemorating Roberts’ career.

Braves Nip Nats In Extras

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Remember when Tommy Hanson was the next big thing in Atlanta? The 6-6, 220 pound righty is still the ace-to-be in the Braves rotation, but his rise to stardom has been eclipsed by all the attention given to new Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward. Or maybe it’s that Hanson, while still sporting a nifty 2.83 ERA, can only help the Braves win every fifth day — that is, not often enough to keep Atlanta from drifting ever lower in the standings. Hanson’s cannon-shot arm was what the Braves needed last night to keep the Tomahawks from losing their tongue-swallowing ninth-in-a-row on the road, but the 23-year-old phenom was shaky in six innings, giving up nine hits and four runs while striking out five. Instead, it was the normally somnolent Braves bats that came through, as Atlanta squeaked out a much-need (at least from their point of view) 7-6 extra innings tilt vs. the Nationals at Nats Park.

Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has been slowly steaming through the Braves’ early season woes, was not impressed with Hanson. “Tommy probably had the worst game that he has had all season,” Cox said after last night’s contest. “He just wasn’t on tonight. He made mistakes with the breaking ball and some fastballs.” Not everything came up roses for the Chops last night, despite the win: Heyward left the game with a groin pull in the second inning, the Braves line-up continues to struggle at the plate, and Cox is attempting to juggle a starting rotation that has been just so-so. In fact, for Cox, working through this year’s starting rotation issues might be more of a challenge than what he faced in 2009 — it’s now clear that Kenshin Kawakami will not be the answer on the mound that the Braves front office once supposed, Tim Hudson isn’t getting any younger (and has a history of arm problems), Derek Lowe is proving particularly susceptible to giving up big innings and the Braves’ middle-of-the-rotation starter, Javier Vazquez is somewhere in New York (nursing arm pain and getting hit around). That leaves Bobby Cox with a lot of questions, and very few answers.

It’s not as if the Nationals don’t have issues of their own. You have to wonder how long Livan Hernandez can pitch like Whitey Ford, whether Jason Marquis will return healthy (or at all), whether John Lannan’s sore elbow will recover enough for him to become the John Lannan of 2009, whether Scott Olsen (who faces the Tomahawks tonight) can keep up his I’m-finally-back-where-I-was performances and whether Craig Stammen can prove consistent enough to get out of his every-other-game funk. The sobering truth is that while the Braves rotation is skaky, the Nats’ is even shakier, despite the Nats solid early season run. While Nats fans wait on the promotion of Strasburg, Storen and the healing of Jordan Zimmermann, their arrival is no guarantee that Washington fans will be watching one of baseball’s best rotations come July. As far as pitching is concerned, not only can anything happen, it usually does. So don’t be surprised if, in a few weeks — and the inevitable blow-outs that greet young arms — Mike Rizzo is shopping around for someone to complement a staff that is (after all) a patchwork of older arms and untested shoulders.

Matt Capps: Closer

Friday, April 9th, 2010

  Matt Capps #55 Of The Washington Nationals Celebrates

The Washington Nationals not only won their first game of the season, they have apparently found their closer. Clinging to a 6-5 lead heading into the ninth, the Nats brought in Matt Capps, their new free agent closer. After a tough season in Pittsburgh (57 games, 5.80 ERA), the Georgia fireballer was looking for redemption. At least for the first two Phillies’ batters in the ninth, he didn’t get it: as Nats’ fans chewed their nails, Phillies’ second sacker Chase Utley greeted Capps with a double and Ryan Howard was walked intentionally. For Washington’s long-suffering fans, this looked like a replay of ’09 — when designated closer Joel Hanrahan blew successive saves and sunk the Nats’ early season hopes. But Capps proved equal to the task, getting Jayson Werth on a long fly out (Nyjer Morgan tracked the ball down in the gap), Raul Ibanez on a short sky-out (to left fielder Willie Harris — who held Utley at third) and Shane Victorino on a pop-up to shortstop Cristian Guzman.

Capps pumped his fist in notching the Nats first victory, and was ebullient after the game:”To go through that lineup, you have to feel good about it,” Capps noted. “It was a great feeling when Guzman caught the ball because I knew it wasn’t hit well to do any damage. Nyjer did a great job on that ball Werth hit. Nyjer getting that ball saved the game.” Capps admitted that he felt the pressure: “There were a few more nerves going out in that save situation. Everything felt good today.” He added: “I threw the ball well. Today felt good.” The win also felt good for Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman. “As we saw [reliever Brian] Bruney battle there in the eighth, and the way Capps was firing in the ninth, it was really encouraging to see because our pitching has to come together,” he said. “It’s making strides. It’s coming together. When it does, it’s going to give us a chance.” The Nats head to New York for a series against the Mets.

That Other NL Rookie: While all eyes are focused on the anointed NL Rookie of the Year — Atlanta’s bopper-to-be Jason Heyward — the Cubs are now starting to feature a phenom of their own. The can’t miss Cubbie is Tyler Colvin, a former Clemson Tiger draft pick, who would have won a job out of Spring Training if the Cubs outfield wasn’t so crowded. On Thursday, the Cubs won their first game of the season — and Colvin’s bat was all they needed. Colvin’s solo shot in the second inning gave the Cubbies a 1-0 lead, propelling the sluggies to a 2-0 shutout in Atlanta. There’s surely more to come. Colvin channeled Crash Davis after the game, giving an “aw shucks” answer to a question about how he prepares for a game now that he’s in The Show — “As long as I stick with my routine, I’ll be fine,” he said. The Cubs will never suffer from a power outage (and they never have): their problem is pitching (and always was). But with Colvin pushing from the bench, the North Side Drama Queens are full-up in the outfield. Don’t expect it to stay that way. Sooner or later, Sweet Lou will have to play Colvin every day — and someone will have to go.

Phils Stampede Nats, 11-1

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

One game a season does not make: and that’s a damn good thing. If the Nats loss at home during their opener is any indication, then fans of the Anacostia Nine are in for a long season. Starter John Lannan was shakey, the bullpen (with the lone exception of Jesse English) seemed to revert to last year’s form, and Nats’ batters just couldn’t get around on Roy “Doc” Halladay. At least in the case of Halladay that’s no surprise. The former Blue Jay was masterful in seven complete innings of work, while Lannan lasted just three-and-two-thirds.”Philly is a tough team to stop once they get the momentum,” Lannan said after the game. “The momentum kept on going, and I couldn’t stop it. I felt good at first, it’s just that the fourth inning got me. I felt good the first three innings. I wanted to have a different story for Opening Day. It’s the first game of many, and I’m not going to let it tell the story for this whole season.”

Aside from the stadium-bulging and excited home town crowd (with Phillies’ fans sprinkled liberally throughout) — and the ceremonies surrounding the actual game — the day was only marginally memorable. It actually began the night before with Washington’s obsession (and the trade of a major player from that other game), and continued into the early afternoon, with the sports media’s focus on America’s current sports megalomaniac. In Boston and New York (and Chicago, Anaheim and Atlanta), those kinds of stories would be footnotes: a sure sign that Washington will need a winner to command the kind of loyalties enjoyed by the “Nation,” the “Empire” and the “Halos.” We’ll get there, but if Monday is any indication, it probably won’t be this year.

The good news is that with the opener out of the way, Nats’ fans can now focus on the real story: whether the bullpen will show appreciable improvement over ’09 (at least Jesse English looks good), whether the platoon in right field will really work (it won’t), whether Ian Desmond is “the answer” at short (we won’t know for awhile), and whether the starting five (sans Strasburg, at least for now), can reel off some wins.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Bad news for Cubs fans — Carlos Zambrano is still Carlos Zambrano. The Venezuelan rolling pin made Lannan look like an ace. The “Big Z” gave up two homers, hit a batter and made a throwing error as the Sluggies fell to the Chops 16-5. At least he didn’t destroy the water cooler. Lou said that he never imagined that Chicago would give up 16 runs on Opening Day. It was God-awful. Atlanta’s version of “the real deal” hit a dinger in his first at bat and the boys over at “Baseball Tonight” just couldn’t stop talking about it. They said (as ESPN rolled video) that Henry Aaron has “passed the mantle” to a new slugger — new Atlanta outfielder Jason Heyward. Well, maybe. But it might be a little early . . .

John Kruk on Placido Polanco: “He’s the best number two hitter in baseball,” he said, “with the exception of Derek Jeter, who bats first” . . . Peter Gammons is fitting in nicely in his new gig, as an on-air commentator for the MLB Network, but he’s still a homer for his favorite team — and player. That said, he still issues some thoughtful insights. Last night Gammons described Frank Robinson as “the most underrated great player” of his era; that’s a new and interesting baseball category that demands some thinking. Gammons’ new category might, for instance, include the overlooked Mickey Vernon — who’s hardly rated at all. Gammons added that Robinson was overawed by the attention given to Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Yeah, that’s right. And Mickey Mantle.