Archive for the ‘atlanta braves’ Category

Nats Vs. Chops: An Exchange

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

The second in a series of exchanges on match-ups between teams in the NL East has been posted on NL East Chatter. Wally at FishGuts is the questioner, and he kind of puts it to CFG — asking at one point whether it bothers Nats’ fans that the team is now constantly referred to as the “Natinals.” Oddly, I felt compelled to defend the Lerners in my answer, noting that a family that is such a success in business didn’t get that way by not paying attention to the details (obvious evidence to the contrary). Now I know there are a lot of Nats’ fans who won’t like that, but here’s the rule — especially when it comes to the NL East: all of this stuff stays here. And this is a franchise worth defending.

And I go the other way on all-world pitcher Stephen Strasburg. “Are the Nats going to “show him the money?” Here’s my answer:  “Yeah, sure. We’re going to show him the money. The question is, will he take it? I think the Nats are committed to making a bank busting offer to Strasburg – topping any amount paid to any draftee ever. But that might not matter. It may be that the Scott Boras agenda is to use Strasburg to transform the dollars paid to draftees. So any offer might be dead on arrival. Which is too bad: because the owners will get blamed. But I think I would break ranks on this and defend them. Strasburg questioned the way the team was run and said he might play in Japan. Here’s a kid who’s never thrown a pitch in the majors, and he’s in the position to judge how a team is run? To turn down a payday that will make him rich? I don’t like threats. Bust the bank. Fine. And I hope he takes it and turns into a star. But if he doesn’t take it, he can play for the Hanshin Tigers.” 

Matt Fournier of Braves Baseball Blog is much less expansive, but on target. He praises the acquisition of Nate McLouth, but says that’s not enough. “The team needs speed,” he says. He’s right. Watching the Braves go through an inning is like watching a snail make his way to water. Chipper Jones is entering his last and slowest years and Braves’ outfielders are not exactly fleet of foot. But Matt praises the Braves’ surprise find — second baseman Martin Prado: “I had heard of him before this year, but never saw him play consistently enough to see what he was truly capable off,” Matt says. “I honestly don’t think he is a one year wonder, he has shown signs of being a a reliable fielder and consistent hitter. I think he could be the teams second baseman for a good amount of years.” And which pitcher is Matt the most afraid of in the Nats’ line-up? His answer is predictable, if poignant — John Lannan. That’s right. Unfortunately, Braves hitters seemed to handle him just fine last night.


Nats Bats Silent: Lannan Falls

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Hopes for a ninth straight win were dashed by Tommy Hanson and the Atlanta Braves on Monday night, as the Chops prevailed over the Washington Nationals, 8-1. The normally effective John Lannan struggled with the strike zone early and left the game in the fourth after giving up five runs. Lannan’s lack of command was unusual for the lefty who, even on his off days, regularly goes beyond the fifth. Matching Lannan’s ineffectiveness was Braves’ phenom, Tommy Hanson, who gave up a single run in nearly seven innings pitched. Hanson showed why the Braves, who need to surge in the NL East to catch the Phillies, have so much confidence in him. Hanson fanned nine in his nearly seven innings of work, while giving up seven hits. Hanson dampened the Nats’ red hot bats: while the Anacostia nine threatened to undo Hanson’s early innings handiwork — particularly in the first inning — the team could never put together a real threat. “That’s the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been up here,” Hanson said after the game.


The highly touted Hanson appears to be everything the Braves hoped he would be: the number one prospect in the Braves’ system going into 2009 Hanson (once rumored to be headed to San Diego as a package for Jake Peavy), was called up to the big club after the legendary Tom Glavine was released. Hanson was not always a phenom: he was drafted by the Braves in the 22nd round of the 2005 draft — pick number 677 overall. Nor was Hanson necessarily always slated as a starter. In 2006 and 2007, Hanson was used often as a reliever and, while he compiled impressive numbers, there was no guarantee that he was on the fast track to the majors. In 2006, Hanson pitched for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (a Braves single-A affiliate), compiling a 3-3 record with a 4.20 ERA. Even so, many in the Braves’ organization knew that Hanson could be something special. Hanson was fast-tracked out of Myrtle Beach in 2008 and began the 2009 season in triple-A Gwinnett. At the age of 22, Hanson is 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA.

The Battle of …

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Atlanta Logo

Having finally returned to Peachtree and Sweet Auburn after a west coast swing, and now within striking distance of both the Wild Card (they’re 3.5 back) and the division title (they trail the Phuzzies by 4.5), you might guess that Braves fans would be excited by their team’s chances. Guess again. Despite taking three of four from the Dodgers (and going 5-2 on their recent road trip), Braves’ bloggers (but, most especially Talking Chop) report a distinctive lack of fan confidence in the team. Or perhaps it’s just anxiety about the future: their next stretch features twelve of fifteen games at home (where the Braves are always tough), including two against the surging (well, “red hot“) Nationals and then three against the Phillies. August will be a make-or-break month for the Chops: after facing the Nats and Phillies (and a one game break to play the Showboats), the Braves take on the Mets (in New York) and Marlins. At the end of the month they travel to Philadelphia for three. So this is it for the Atlanta nine: by August 31 they’ll know whether they’ll be playing baseball in October — or teeing off to play 18. 

Atlanta fans are worriers. The Braves seem at the top of their game — two of their knock-downs in L.A. were decided by a Braves’ starting rotation that has finally come together. Tough-as-nails Javier Vazquez might be the best reflection of the way the Braves play. He’s gritty, low key and plays better when the pressure’s on. While the world ooohs and aaahs over Tommy Hanson (and for good reason, methinks), Vazquez has become the workhorse of the Atlanta rotation, posting a 10-7 record and a snappy 2.90 ERA. Vazquez eats innings — he’s notched over 200 innings per season in seven of his twelve years in the majors. Vazquez pitched a gem against the Trolleys on Sunday, going eight innings while giving up only five hits. The knock against Vazquez is that he’s good until the end of the fifth or sixth — but can’t close out opponents who see him the third time through the line-up. But Vazquez has all but erased that rap this year: he’s walked only 32 (32!) in 155 innings and surrendered 129 hits. He’s second in the N.L. in strikeouts with 171.


Vazquez has always been underrated and underappreciated: he was trade bait in Montreal (where he was swapped to the Yanks for Nick Johnson), then in New York (he was swapped for Randy Johnson), then in Arizona (he was swapped for Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young — who’s now back in triple-A) and then in Chicago (where he was sent packing — get this — in exchange for Brent Lillbridge and three minor leaguers). He may have finally found a permanent home in Atlanta.

Don’t get me wrong: Vazquez is only one of the reasons Atlanta has a shot in the east. Atlanta G.M. Frank Wren has spent the last month snapping off surprise deals: getting Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh to cover the yawning gap in center, acquiring Ryan Church for the overexposed and dissatisfied Jeff Francoeur and bringing Adam LaRoche back to Turner Field for Casey Kotchman. In three swift moves, Wren said “not yet” to “can’t miss” centerfield prospect Jordan Schafer (.204 in 50 games), rid the team of a complainer, and shipped out an unpopular player — all while filling three desperate needs with better-than-average talent. And he’s done this all while bringing in a free-be in rookie pitcher Tommy Hanson who, at 6-6/220 looks like his release point is about halfway to home. 

So Atlanta fans are anxious? Well, ain’t we all. But after their recent 5-2 road trip — and a starting staff that matches up well against the Phillies (even with Cliff Lee) – the Braves are poised to give the Phuzzies a run for the NL East flag. Two months ago no one would have given a nickel for their chances; now no one’ll bet against em. The good news for the Nats is that they won’t have to face the up-and-in Vazquez in the Battle of Atlanta. The bad news is that they’ll be facing Tommy Hanson instead. The Nationals Nine will attempt to extend their eight game winning streak when they send John Lannan to the mound against the Braves at Turner Field tomorrow night.


Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The Washington Nationals banged out three home runs and John Lannan recorded his eighth victory, as the Anacostia nine hung on to best the Florida Phish 5-4 at Nationals Park. The victory was the fourth in a row for the suddenly revived Nats. Cristian Guzman was the hero of the game, with a single, double and triple. Guzman’s RBI triple — a shot down the right field line — proved to be the difference in the contest. The Nats’ shortstop has been on fire over the last twelve games, going 24 for 51. The game had a little something for everyone: home runs (by Zimmerman, Dunn and Belliard), steady pitching from Lannan (six strikeouts in six innings), stellar defensive plays (including two gems at third base) and solid relief pitching — Jorge Sosa pitched two innings of one hit ball — and the Nats’ nail-biting closer (Mike “heart attack” MacDougal), pitched a three-up-three-down ninth. Even Ronnie Belliard (with his less than breathtaking .257 OBP), got into the act: he flashed a fourth inning homer against Marlins’ pitching victim Rick VandenHurk, who lasted just four innings and gave up seven hits.


Cristian Guzman’s continued hitting streak follows a slumping July, when his average dipped below .300. Jim Riggleman had nothing but praise for his shortstop after the game. “Well, he is really a good hitter,” Riggleman said. “The guy can just put the bat on the ball, and quite often it hits the barrel of the bat. It’s solid. The ball is jumping when he hits it. He is a really good offensive player and he is doing a good job at shortstop. I think his play at shortstop has picked up recently.” Guzman is known as a free-swinger, the reason for his unimpressive OBP and low walk numbers. But on Wednesday, Guzman hit two scorchers down the right field line and knocked in two RBIs. Batting sparkplug Nyjer Morgan ahead of Guzman in the leadoff spot is clearly benefitting the eleven year veteran — who began the year waiting for a chance to drive in runs.

John Lannan admitted after the game that he didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled for the win anyway. The Nats had to rely on their bullpen to hold the slim lead and they did — but just barely. The usual lights-out Sean Burnett was anything but against the Phish, and Riggleman removed him after he put the first two men he faced on base. Veteran hurler and converted outfielder Jorge Sosa, recently recalled from Syracuse, was able to shut down the Marlins and get the hold. The eight year veteran (and former New York Met) threw 28 pitches, twenty of them for strikes — reverting to the form that made him a phenom in 2005 for the then-injury plagued Atlanta Braves. Converted to a starter Sosa went 11-3, which helped catapult the Braves into the post-season. Sosa featured a low-in-zone fastball with a lot of movement in 2005, but lost his touch as a reliever in subsequent years. But Sosa pitched with authority and good command in Wednesday, when the Marlins found him nearly untouchable.

Improving By Standing Still?

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

The Washington Nationals win streak was snapped at four games in Milwaukee last night, as the Anacostia Boys lost to the Brewers 7-5. It looked like the same-old-same-old for the Nats when starter Garrett Mock began to fall apart in the third. The Nationals failed to hold a comfortable 4-0 lead. Even the otherwise steady Tyler Clippard was unable to get the middle of the Brewers’ order out; Clippard gave up two runs in a little over one inning of work. The game was marked by a third inning mini-controversy, when Brewer slugger Ryan Braun powered a ball to centerfield that Nyjer Morgan just missed. The ball was initially ruled a home run but, after review, was adjudged an RBI triple. “It was the fight call,” Morgan said after the game. We’re so used to seeing Morgan’s astounding catches that his miss came almost as a surprise. But Nats fans still can’t say enough about the guy: he’s seven-for-fifteen in the Milwaukee series.

Nationals Brewers Baseball

Pitcher Julian Tavarez and outfielder Corey Patterson cleared waivers on Wednesday. Patterson might be of some interest to the Yankees, where he would be a back-up to centerfielder Brett Gardner, according to the New York Post. Patterson’s career has taken a nose-dive over the last several years. A highly touted prospect with the Cubs, Patterson continues to struggle at the plate. He was given what amounted to a cup of coffee with the Nationals this year, despite his speed and defensive abilities. The Nats’ front office did not view Patterson as the solution in center, and they were right. Tavarez remains confident that another team will sign him, but after nearly seventeen years in the majors, Tavarez is a known quantity — bad news for him. His time might be up.

The NL Least: The lack of trade talk in the NL East (outside of Philadelphia, of course) is astonishing. The Phuzzie’s quest for Roy Halladay — and their eventual trade for former Cy Young and Cleveland mainstay Cliff Lee — has seemingly taken all of the oxygen out of the rest of the division’s desire to compete for the NL East title. While the Chokes continue to search for a lefthanded reliever, the Mets’ front office has said they won’t give up a high prospect to do so. The report of the Mets’ search for another reliever comes as somewhat of a surprise — the New York nine will have to do a lot more than shore up their bullpen to compete with the Phuzzies . . . The silence out of Miami was broken by Peter Gammons, who reported that the Phish are making inquiries about Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell. Nothing seems imminent, but don’t be surprised (knowing the Phish front office), if Dan Uggla and Cody Ross are moved. Asking for a raise in Miami is the same as asking for a ticket out of town . . .

That leave the Chops who (like the Mets) are looking for some help in the bullpen. They’ve made inquiries about Oakland A’s reliever Michael Wuertz, but otherwise seem satisfied with what they have. That would stand to reason: the Braves outfield has been revamped over the last month, with the acquisition of Nate McLouth and Ryan Church. Tommy Hanson is now a part of a solid rotation: of Jair Jurrjens, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe and Jaiver Vazquez. That’s as impressive a front five as there is in baseball, at least on paper. And that’s the problem — when the Braves study the bottom line they are 12-10 since July 4. That’s simply not good enough to compete with the Phuzzies . . .

Like the Chokes, Chops and Phish, the Nats have also gone silent — under the apparent belief that their most recent run of victories says good things about the future. That’s the view of Jim Riggleman, who says he doesn’t see any big trade coming. The Nats have won six of their last eight and their young pitchers are throwing well. Then too, it’s hard to imagine what the team could get for Josh Willingham that could serve as a replacement for one of the league’s hottest hitters. You have to believe that Mike Rizzo would have to be overwhelmed with an offer to part with Willingham, Dunn or even Nick Johnson. And it’s true. The Nats have been improving by standing still, at least so far. But it’s hard to ignore the obvious: there’s a gaping hole at second base that can’t be filled by what they have.


Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Chicago Cubs got healthy in Washington, taking four games of a four game set, the last an embarrassing blowout with seeming ramifications for both the starting staff and the bullpen. Julian “Coo Coo” Tavarez was designated for assignment after the game and Logan Kensing was recalled from Syracuse. The Tavarez decision came several games too late; Tavarez had a habit of walking first batters and was particularly ineffective in his last three outings. The well-traveled Tavarez (eleven stops in 17 years) was optimistic about his chances of catching on with another club: “Tomorrow I’m going to be running and throwing balls, waiting for someone to give me a phone call. I’ll be back.” Maybe: but Tavarez, who has worn out his welcome, won’t be back in Washington. Logan Kensing, late of the Marlins, was recalled from Syracuse and will be given another chance with the big club.

It’s unlikely the Nats are finished shuffling. After a pre-All Star Game letter apologizing for their first half antics and the firing of Nats good guy Manny Acta, the Nationals and Jim Riggleman are in the midst of a mid-season slump that belies Riggleman’s promise that “We will turn it around.” It was hard to feel that during the Nats’ collapse on Sunday — the combination of a stadium half-filled with Cubs fans, an Alberto Gonzalez booted ball, the unraveling of Garrett Mock and “Coo Coo’s” antics combined to send Nats’ fans home early. The stadium started emptying in the top of the 6th (it almost reminded me of Shea), leaving fans of the North Side Drama Queens to celebrate their victory. The Slugs are now rolling towards the Redbirds, whom they trail by two games. The Cubs head north to face the Phuzzies, while the Nats will square off against the Chokes, who are coming in from Atlanta — where they lost three of four.

Down On Half Street: It takes time to assess a trade, but Mike Rizzo’s acquisition of Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett is looking more and more like a steal. Morgan has gained the most attention, but Burnett (who should have been on the mound for “Coo Coo” on Sunday) has continued to impress. His ERA has dropped nearly half-a-point since his arrival in Washington. But Burnett has been used sparingly: logging less than nine innings in eight outings. During that same period, “Coo Coo” faced double the batters of Burnett, while his ERA rose by the same rate as Burnett’s fell. I don’t get it . . . MLB Network showed Ryan Langerhans in left field for the Mariners the other day. The former Chop and Nats’ outfielder’s BA has ping-ponged with the Blue and Teal. Meanwhile Mike Morse, the player Rizzo obtained for Langerhans, is hitting the hell out of the ball in Syracuse. Morse, a third round draft choice for the Pale Hose has been haunted by injuries and the Mariners seemingly ran out of patience with him. Morse has played short and third, but he’s now holding down second for the Chiefs. Morse is big, tough and hits the long ball and he has a good glove. He could be in Washington soon . . . 


Around the NL Least: Kingman over at The Real Dirty Mets Blog loves the Ryan Church for Jeff Francoeur trade and says he has not yet given up hope on the Mets’ season. Readers of CFG know we have no brief for Francoeur, but we would probably take the swap. Francoeur was smiling all the way through the Mets’ loss to the Chops on Sunday in Atlanta, while Church looks like the same old Ryan Church that once played for the Nats . . . Braves Baseball Blog, meanwhile, makes a plea to Atlanta’s front office: “Another bat would be all I want. With offense struggling [the Braves] are in dire need of a legitimate bat to give support to McClouth, Chipper and B-Can . . . I’m very optimistic that it will happen, but some players I wouldn’t mind getting would be Holliday, Teahan, Jeremy Hermida, and or Alex Rios. But I don’t want the team to be trading away any potential future studs just so they can win now . . . not worth it in my opinion . . . ” The newest addition to nleastchatter is Fish Guts. This’ll be the last time I agree with a Phish fan, but he’s right about the new stadium and plans to replace the Marlins’ uniforms: “my dream is that they keep the home whites with pinstripes, as I think those are some of the classiest threads in all of baseball.” That’s true . . .

JR Remains Optimistic . . .

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Despite Nats 3-1 Loss. The Nats were outpitched in their dual against Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs Friday, but Jim Riggleman remained upbeat during the post-game press conference. The shape of the new “Riggleman era” in Nats’ baseball is now becoming apparent: the new skipper will attempt to infuse the Anacostia Boys with a new sense of purpose by accenting the positive. Saying he would attempt to keep from being negative, Riggleman vowed to stay away from words like “frustrating” in describing the state-of-the-team. “I can remember thinking I don’t even want to use those words,” he said. “It projects negative stuff.” Later in his post-game briefing, Riggleman was even more emphatic, while breaking his own rule: “[The team is] frustrated with the record, and they’re anxious to turn it around,” he said. “And I can tell you that. We will turn it around.”

Changing the culture of negativity is one thing, tweaking the line-up is another. Evidence that Riggleman understands the team’s weakness was apparent in the first inning, when he signaled a hit-and-run with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate. With Nyjer Morgan at second and Nick Johnson at first, Zimmerman swung through a 3-2 Zambrano offering. Morgan, running with the pitch, was called out while trying to take third. The classic strike-em-out-throw-em-out play killed a Nats’ rally, but Riggleman’s intention was clear: he wanted to keep Zimmerman from hitting into a double play, which has become a habit for the third sacker. Still, Riggleman was adamant: the Nats had played a good game, with Craig Stammen weathering successive on-base problems and early inconsistencies to pitch a solid six innings. The Nats waited for the departure of Zambrano, but couldn’t solve the Cubs’ bullpen. “To me good baseball is good baseball,” Riggleman said. “Sometimes you don’t hit good or you don’t pitch good, but you do a lot of things good. You play the game well.”

Playing the game “well” is what the Cubs did last night, which was a kind of model for what they had planned all year: their starters (Zambrano, or Lilly, or Harden) keep them in the game, Carlos Marmol pitches the eighth and Kevin Gregg closes it out. In between, one of their boppers (like Aramis Ramirez) puts one in the seats while their up-the-middle “LSU connection” do their wizardry around second. The model worked last night, but it didn’t work so well in the first half of the season, when the Cubs of ’09 appeared to be the Cubs of old — non-lovable losers who haven’t won anything much since 1945, and are without a world championship since 1908. The history weighs heavily. In the 8th inning of last night’s game, the chant coming from Cubs fans (let’s go cubbies) was answered by one from a Nats fan sitting several rows behind me — nineteenoheight!


Down On Half Street: I attended the game with me droogs last night (here they are, once again) and received an earful from one of them — a Mets fan, no less — who pointed out that it wasn’t that long ago that the Nats could claim to be a good team. “They had a closer, a hitter and a couple good pitchers,” he said. He’s right. It might seem eons, but the 2005 Nats finished at .500 with a line-up Brian Schneider, Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen and Vinny Castilla. Livan Hernandez was performing miracles on the mound and Wil Cordero, who is now out of the game, was the closer. Those were the days . . . Even so, loyalists have to believe the Nats are still only a closer, a bopper, a veteran pitcher and a second baseman from respectability. Which is true, of course, for nearly every team in baseball . . . 

We’re likely to see more tweaks in the Nats line-up. The one way to keep the strike-em-out-throw-em-out first inning that we saw last night from becoming a habit would be to move Alberto to the second spot and move Zim down, perhaps to the fifth spot. The Nats need to find a way to move on-base machine Nyjer Morgan into scoring position without always having to depend on him to steal a base . . . Ronnie Belliard pinch hit on Thursday and again last night. Why are the Nats still in love with this guy? . . . Gonzalez is 10 for his last 20 and is laying claim to the second base job. He was at shortstop last night because Cristian Guzman was complaining about foot pain. “Fredo” is hitting the hell out of the ball, his triple against the Cubs on Thursday was one of the most impressive scorchers registered at Nats Park this year. Add his name to the list of “can’t touch” Nats, which includes John Lannan, Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, Jordan Zimmermann, Adam Dunn, Jesus Flores, Josh Willingham (mmmmm, well, maybe not) and (perhaps) Craig Stammen. I would put Sean Burnett on the list. That leaves Nick Johnson and Cristian Guzman as the most likely candidates to be packing their bags before the trade deadline . . . The Nats are apparently waiting for the right offer for Johnson, hoping his stock will rise in the next week. But there are reports that Mike Rizzo might be asking too much for Johnson and some “buyers” who might need Johnson could very quickly become “sellers” — especially if they keep losing 11-0.  

Phillies Nationals Baseball

“Jimmy Ball” Arrives . . .

Friday, July 17th, 2009

So Let’s Put A “Curly L” In The Books: The “Jim Riggleman” era began in Washington last night, with a loss to the Chicago Cubs. Nats fans and baseball analysts and columnists who follow the team are so downhearted, however, that they seem to see no diffence between this “era” and the last. Indeed, the same plague — poor fielding and a collapsing bullpen — seem as ever present now as it did before the all star break. It’s hard to blame anyone for not noticing any difference between last night’s loss and (say) the embarrassing play of the team in Colorado and Houston. But there were, in fact, some fairly obvious differences. Cristian Guzman, for instance, seemed reenergized, snagging two tough grounders that (I can’t help feeling) he would have booted under Manny. And Alberto Gonzalez went two for three at the plate, raising his batting average to .342. Take a bow Manny. Alberto’s hitting is a confirmation of the ex-Manager’s judgment that the kid at second is now ready for prime time, a decision that Riggleman has (thankfully) endorsed. As for Guzman, I get the impression that Riggleman had a little chat with him — or maybe he didn’t have to. 

The NL “Least”: The Nats are the only team in the NL East to not be playing an inter-division rival. While last night’s head-to-head games were hardly the last that the Phuzzies, Chokes, Phish and Chops will have with each other (or with our Anacostia Boys), they were emblamatic of the kinds of knock-down-drag-outs (or perhaps “surrenders”) that are likely to characterize the rest of the season in the NL East. New York’s tussle in Atlanta with “the Chops” not only resulted in an Atlanta win, it symbolized the kinds of problems the ailing New York 9 is having. Chipper Jones stroked an RBI single in the seventh to break a 3-3 deadlock and the Braves went on to win 5-3 in nine. The new Mets’ savior, Jeff Francoeur, went 0-4, with an infield single that scored a run. That’s about standard for the whiney Francoeur, who was swapped for the appropriately named Ryan Church in a straight-up trade of “we-don’t-want-him-anymore” outfielders. The Mets bullpen, a weakness last year but a strength this year, failed to hold the Chops — with the otherwise lights-out Pedro Feliciano serving up the Jones game-winning RBI in 1/3 or an inning’s work.

In Miami, the little engine that could — Jamie Moyer — hooked the Phish, holding them to one hit in seven innings of work. You have to wonder what the Marlins are going to do the rest of the way: their starting five looks suddenly vulnerable and their “closer by committee” plan hasn’t ever worked for anyone. That leaves the Phish depending on the bats of Emilio Bonafacio, Jorge Cantu, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez and Jeremy Hermida to generate runs, which is not such a bad bet were it not for the fact that the Miami front five went 1 for 14 last night. Okay, so Jamie Moyer isn’t Tim Lincecum, but you see the point. Calling Moyer “that wily and crafty veteran” doesn’t compensate for a night in which Miami failed miserably to show the Phuzzies that they were going to fight them for the division flag. 


If last night is any indication, the Mets, Marlins and Braves are going to have trouble staying with the Phillies, with the Phuzzies having the inside track on winning the division. The Mets are not only hobbled, the horses they were depending on to put them back in the post-season are not producing: David Wright has suddenly and inexplicably lost his home run stroke and no date has been set for the return of injured semi-stars Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. And Mets fans counting on the return of Jose Reyes will just have to wait: the everyday shortstop is still nursing his nagging calf and there’s a growing feeling he might be done for the year. But that’s hardly the worst problem facing the Chokes: the team has no starting rotation outside of Johan Santana and screaming and yelling that Mike Pelfrey is the answer doesn’t make it so. He’s not. After working through the off-season to remake “the great collapsable bullpen,” Omar Minaya can feel good that the Chokes have one of the best core of relief pitchers in the game — and very little else. Certainly Minaya must be calculating his own future, knowing full well that this time the Mets’ ownership will look for someone else to fire besides the manager.

The Phish are flopping, the Chokes are choking, and the Chops are struggling. Which is to the point: in comparison to the NL West, where the Dodgers, Giants and Rockies are likely to fight it out for the division flag (and the likely NL wild card birth) and in comparison to the NL Central — where only the Pirates seem out of the running — the NL East looks more like “the NL Least,” with a team that is the worst in baseball and three others that are in various states of collapse. The result is that the division will probably be sorting itself out fairly soon – especially if Philadelphia lands fireballer Roy Halladay in a trade.

But even without Halladay, the Phuzzies are putting distance between themselves and the rest of the division, with Florida five games back and Atlanta six. Halladay will be added, then, though not to finish the Phish, choke the Chokes or sink the Chops — the Phillies are looking ahead to the post-season: to the Dodgers, Cards and Giants. The disparity in talent in “the Least” is obvious: Philadelphia has everything it needs to take on the other NL contenders in the post-season, while the Braves, Marlins and Mets are trying to solve major problems. It’s painful to say it, but if the Nats had any kind of a team at all . . .

Olsen Burns Atlanta . . .

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Zimmerman is an All Star: Scott Olsen scorched the Braves on Sunday and the Washington Nationals walked away with their second win in a row. Olsen nearly completed the game before giving up a home run to Braves’ centerfielder Nate McLouth and being relieved by Mike MacDougal. The win sealed the growing sense that the Nats have turned some kind of corner, their play evidence that interim GM Mike Rizzo’s plan for the team is beginning to yield results. During the post-game, MASN analyst Ray Knight seemed to suggest that at least part of the reason for the turnaround was the different mix in the clubhouse — a hint perhaps that it was not only the addition of Nyjer Morgan that was making the difference, but the subtraction of others (including Elijah Dukes) that was changing the way the team approaches games. Knight’s question, to guest Josh Willingham, was laden with not-so-subtle implications.

But Willingham either didn’t understand the question, or purposely ducked it: his answer was worthy of any cliche from the mouth of Crash Davis — teams that play good defense and pitch well win, he said, and that tends to put everyone in a good mood. Knight laughed and told the new rightfielder to keep hitting. Even so, Knight’s comment gave voice to rumors that the team did not like Dukes’s attitude and that the troubled centerfielder would not be returning to the big club anytime soon, if ever. With Dukes gone, Knight implied, the Nats clubhouse was a happier place, the team more capable of focusing on how to win games. And so the process of what The Nationals Enquirer calls “de-Bowdenization” continues. It seems it is now only a matter of time before Rizzo rids the team of the rest of Bowden’s experiments, as well as his penchant for signing former Cincinnati Reds has-beens. That means that Elijah Dukes is being offered to other teams — along with Austin Kearns, who seems to now have taken a permanent position on the Nats’ bench.

The Nats win came on the same day that third sacker Ryan Zimmerman was named to the MLB All Star team, the result of a vote of his fellow players and MLB managers and coaches. “This won’t be the last time we’ll see him as an all star,” TBS commentator Cal Ripken noted during the all star selection show. Zimmerman, the face of the franchise, will be making his first all star appearance, despite his fall-off in production over the last month. Major League Baseball also included Cristian Guzman among five finalists for fan votes for inclusion on the final squad. For whatever reason, Guzman seemed less than thrilled with the prospect of playing in St. Louis. “I don’t care if I go or not go,” he told Washington Post reporter Chico Harlan. “I’ve gone twice already. I want to take my three days off and have a very good second half.” Guzman is in the mix for the final all star spot with Dodger Matt Kemp, D-Back Mark Reynolds, the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval and Phillie Shane Victorino.

Phillies Nationals Baseball

Nats Rally; Dunn Hits #300

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Nearly everything went right at Nationals Park on July 4: John Lannan turned in another steady performance, the Nats infield backed him with four double plays, Nyjer Morgan showed his speed in centerfield, the numbers three, four and five hitters moved runners over and produced clutch hits — and Mike McDougal shut the door on the Chops in the ninth as the Nats rallied to take the second of three from the Braves. But the star of the show was Adam Dunn, who launched a 440 foot shot into the right-centerfield second deck for his 300th career home run in the seventh inning. In the eighth Dunn was the hero again, scorching a through-the-box game winning single to ensure the Nats’ win. Dunn went two for three with two RBIs in the game.


Lannan — victimized throughout the year by the Nats’ bullpen and lack of timely hitting — was on the other end of the win today, with Atlanta Braves new phenom Tommy Hanson taking the no-decision, the result of unusually ineffective stints by relievers Mike Gonzalez, Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty. Gonzalez was particularly ineffective, giving up three runs in 1/3 of an inning. The Nats were buoyed by the win, and by Dunn’s heroics. “It says a lot about the way the team battled back,” Manny Acta said after the game. “They have been doing it the whole season. Forget about the record. These guys play hard.” Dunn complimented the fans for their support. “They made it great. It was awesome.”

In truth, the stellar play of the Nats seemed to reflect an energized crowd, with few Braves fans in attendance. The thirst for a win was apparent at the outset, even as it became apparent that the Nats best hitters were going to have difficulty solving Hanson, who pitched three-hit ball through seven complete innings. But, like Lannan, the crowd of 23,000-plus hung in, sensing that once Hanson was gone the Nationals might have a chance to put some runs on the board. They were not disappointed. After Dunn’s lone shot in the seventh, Nyjer Morgan’s timely sacrifice pushed runners to second and third in the eighth. Nick Johnson followed with a timely walk to load the bases. The next hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, delivered a ‘seeing eye” single to tie the score. Dunn then put the Nats ahead to stay with a first pitch single. Lannan had told Dunn between innings that he thought the Nats could win. “The double play helped me out,” Lannan said. “It was my best friend.”