Archive for the ‘national league west’ Category

Two Of Three From The Ahoys

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman accounted for four of the Nats runs with four RBIs, righty Jason Marquis pitched a solid six innings and slugger Adam Dunn hit a long home run into the left field seats as the Washington Nationals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-1 on Sunday. The win marked the first time that the Nats had won a road series since May, as the Anacostia Nine took two of three on the road against the Ahoys. “Start-by-start I feel like I’m getting to where I need to be,” Marquis sai following his outing. “Obviously early on I was hurting, and since the surgery I feel like Jason Marquis more day-by-day. The last four starts have been right where I want to be, although I’d like to go a little deeper into games, but I’ve just got to minimize my pitch count and that will happen.”

Fear And Trembling In San Diego: You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the concern in the voices of the radio announcers for the San Diego Padres. It was obvious in the bottom of the 9th inning on Sunday, with the Colorado Rockies about to sweep their three game series with the Friars — sending the Pads to their tenth loss in a row. “Well,” color analyst Jerry Coleman said, “the Padres have three outs to turn this thing around. You have to wonder.” The frustration of the broadcast team of “double X 1090” had been growing throughout the game, ever since the Padres had tied the Rockies in the 6th, only to see the Heltons climb back by scoring two in the top of the seventh. “It’s like we’re snake bit,” Coleman said. The Padres skid is their worst since May of 1994 and the worst for a first place team since the 1932 Pirates. “We’re in games,” Padres manger Bud Black explained after Sunday’s loss. “We’re just not generating the big hit, we’re not generating the offense to get us over the top. We’re just not executing the pitch, making the play that changes the course of a game.”

If San Diego doesn’t do something soon, they’re in danger of drawing comparisons with the 1969 Cubs, who were in first place in August, but then let the Mets catch them, or the 1964 Phillies — whose late-season collapse remains legion. It’s hard to determine what ails the Pads: there haven’t been any blow-outs during the skid, but the team seems incapable of winning the close ones. In many ways, the Sunday tilt against the Rockies was typical: the pitching was solid (but not solid enough) and the Padres hit (but not exactly when they need to), and the team took the early lead — but couldn’t hold it. With the exception of a 5-0 skunking at the hands of the Phillies back on August 29 and an 11-5 disaster against the Diamondbacks (that started the meltdown) the Friars have been in nearly every game.

The Padres’ problem is what we always thought it would be — hitting. The Friars have scored just 23 runs in their ten game skid and have found it nearly impossible to hit with runners in scoring position, plating one run for every five chances. Ryan Ludwick was supposed to help solve the team’s RBI production problems but, after a solid start in his new digs, he just hasn’t done it. The right fielder, who the Padres picked up in a three-way swap with the Cardinals and Indians at the trade deadline, is known for his nose-in-the-dirt play and ability to compete in close games, but he’s hit .194 over the losing streak — a fall-off in production as sudden as it is unexplained. And don’t look now, but young hurler Wade LeBlanc (a solid starter to go with the likes of Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Jon Garland and Kevin Correia) is in a free-fall. In ten starts since mid-July, LeBlanc has seen his ERA fall from 3.30 to 4.15. Ugh.

There’s a bright side, of course. The Padres are still in first place, the team’s starters are still “the best in the West” (and maybe in the entire National League), Bud Black is one of the savviest managers in the majors — and it ain’t over until it’s over. But the Padres have to be worried: they face the surging McCoveys seven times over the next four weeks (including a four game set this coming weekend) and the Rockies seem to have their number, having won 11 of 15 in their last meetings. The Padres face Colorado in a three game set in Denver starting next Monday — having just been swept by them in San Diego. “We’ll be fine — trust me,” Padres’ second sacker David Eckstein said in the midst of this most recent skid. And, you know, maybe he’s right. But in the sprint to the poll, and with the Giants and Rockies in their rear view mirror, the Padres need to start hitting.

(above: Ryan Zimmerman, AP Photo/Keith Srakocic. Below: David Eckstein in San Diego AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Praising Arizona

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Once upon a time, and not so terribly long ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks were the class of the National League. And for good reason — the Snakes had the best pitching staff in baseball (anchored by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren), a quality innings eater with a history of winning (former Fish Livan Hernandez) a group of fast, punch-and-judy hitters (Orlando Hudson and Stephen Drew), a classic high strikeouts player with punch and panache (Mark Reynolds) and a faster-than-spit closer (Jose Valverde) who was the envy of major league baseball. Plus (plus!), the D-Backs had a solid philosophy of winning, based on the foundation that had brought them a World Series Championship in 2001: the club would focus on pitching, pitching, pitching (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling anchored the staff in ’01), and build a strong farm system based on development and scouting. But those days are gone. The Diamondbacks of 2010 are 23 games back of the Friars and the face of the franchise, savvy righty Dan Haren, is living in Los Angeles. So what happened?

Injuries happened — and overspending. Brandon Webb hasn’t pitched in forever and is still attempting to recover from shoulder surgery (his arm still hurts, but he’s agreed to pitch out of the bullpen), Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton have been on-and-off the DL with a series of nagging everyday bumps and bruises, D-Backs President Derrick Hall and Interim General Manager Jerry DiPoto are still living with the effects of their predecessors’ decision to hand Showboat Eric Byrnes a three year $30 million paycheck — one of the worst contract decisions made in D-Backs history — and the farm system was plundered for short term satisfaction and is devoid of any perceivable talent. Worse yet, the once can’t-get-enough-of-baseball Phoenix fanbase has been dribbling away, making a $75 million player payroll untenable. The result has been a classic baseball fire sale, albeit one that began long before the trading deadline, and had nothing to do with players. Manager A.J. Hinch was tossed on the scrapheap on the night of July 1 and G.M. Josh Byrnes was disposed of 24 hours later. The firings signaled the beginning of a trend: the Diamondbacks wouldn’t just be sellers at the trading deadline (and before), they were dedicated to taking the team apart and starting over.

You can hardly blame Arizona fans for being skeptical. The current DiPoto salary dump looks as desperate as Byrnes’s decision to denude the D-Backs farm system two years ago — when Scott Hairston and Alberto Callaspo were shipped off for relief pitcher no-accounts (and Valverde’s salary was embarrassingly dumped) and Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez (a curse, now, on Arizona pitching — in Colorado) were shipped to Oakland to land Haren. Earlier this year Byrnes attempted to compensate for these sins by sending Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy (a good swap by any standard), but the trade came way too late to silence the rising chorus of critics who noted that dumping young talent almost never works.

While skepticism about the Rattlers’ future is in order, Arizona fans can be thankful that their franchise’s tradition of trading for and developing young pitching seems to be intact. While DiPoto received good value for Haren (Joe Saunders is no slouch) and simply cast off catcher Chris Snyder for three below average players (one of whom, Ryan Church, I wouldn’t let in my outfield), his decision to buy Edwin Jackson a ticket to Chicago for Daniel Hudson (below, pitching against “the Kings of Queens”) is paying immediate dividends: the young righty (nearly a Nationals’ property, in a proposed trade for Adam Dunn), threw a gem against the Amazins, whose death spiral (“trades? sorry — we’ll play these”) is now nearly an established fact. Hudson looks like he’s in the Diamondbacks’ rotation to stay after throwing eight innings of three hit ball — a game that, by itself, is far better than any that Danny Haren threw all year. Sure, the Diamondbacks look like a mess and, yes, there’s likely to be more moves in Arizona in the offseason. But the arrival of Hudson, when coupled with the promise of a developing Ian Kennedy, holds hope for the future. In truth, the Diamondbacks of 2010 look now like the D-Backs of 1999. That team, an embarrassing but young mess, was just two years from a world championship.

The Face of the Padres

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

I can remember my reaction to the 1969 announcement that the majors were putting expansion franchises in Seattle (the Pilots), Montreal (the Expos), Kansas City (the Royals) and San Diego — “San Diego? Are the kidding? How many people are there in San Diego?” It seemed like a fantasy, or a shameless reach. The American and National Leagues were competitive, balanced . . . interesting. Now, though, there would be four official doormats, including a team named (get this) the Padres. And for what: a shade more revenue? A dilution of talent? It’s not as if the people of Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City or San Diego were exactly clamoring for a team — there were no public marches, no grand petitions. Above all, the expansion decision meant extra time spent assessing the qualities of new meat: Tommy Dean, Ed Spezio, Ollie Brown. Oh, and Nate Colbert — a young Houston castoff whose first years defined the Friars, and led to my (admittedly irritating) habit of naming teams for their players. They weren’t the Padres, they were the San Diego “Colberts,” a perhaps too-cheeky dismissal of their claim to a place in the hearts and minds of baseball afficianados.

The Padres were an afterthought, no more than a footnote really, until 1974, when the hobbled and aging Willie McCovey came down from San Francisco to give the franchise legitimacy — and to put bodies in the seats. This must have been an MLB decision, for I can’t imagine Willie ever agreeing to accept a San Diego assignment willingly. “Go down there Willie and see if you can’t help these people out,” I imagined Bowie Kuhn saying. McCovey didn’t make the Padres winners, of course, but his arrival signaled a new seriousness on the part of San Diego’s ownership. It was during the first home game of 1974 that new owner Ray Kroc grabbed a microphone and apologized to the fans for fielding such a lousy team. “I’ve never seen such stupid ballplaying in my life,” Kroc intoned. Yeah, well . . . if Kroc had looked a little more closely he would have seen a San Diego ballclub that, despite their 60-102 record, was on the road back. For out there in left field (on the other side of the diamond from McCovey), was a 22-year-old Minnesota prospect, Dave Winfield, while standing in the bullpen (ready to begin his second season in the Padres’ rotation) was a 24-year-old curve-and-sinker specialist by the name of Randy Jones.

Jones was not an immediate success. In the year that Kroc berated his own team, Jones compiled a record that ranks as among the most futile in all of Padres’s history — 8-22 with a 4.45 ERA. It’s a wonder that Padres’ manager John McNamara kept running him out there, game after embarrassing game. But “Johnny Mac” saw something in Jones that others would not or could not recognize: an almost obsessive desire to win and (oh yeah) a sinker that (when it was thrown well) was absolutely unhittable. The Jones sinker hardly sunk at all in 1974 — but the puffy-haired semi-Afro wearing Californian went 20-12 the next year (and helped the Padres climb out of the cellar) and an astounding 22-14 in 1975, when Jones pitched in 40 games and completed 25. The world noticed. SI put Jones on its cover (“Threat To Win 30”) and Topps printed a card that showed Jones paired with Baltimore ace Jim Palmer.

Sadly, but perhaps predictably, Randy Jones was never better than he was when SI decided to put him on its cover. While Jim Palmer went on to a Hall of Fame career, Jones reverted to form: his sinker lost its edge, his arm tired, and his record over the next six years (43-69) seemed to prove the adage that while strike out pitchers succeed, ground ball pitchers fail. Jones ended up in New York (the Mets have a penchant for signing end-of-career burn outs) and then was out of baseball. In retirement, Jones perfected a line of baseball barbecue sauces (Randy Jones Original Baseball Barbecue Sauce, Inc.), and gave private pitching lessons to young and talented pitchers — including (in one notorious case) Barry Zito. Jones is an exacting  teacher and an apparently good one: he began coaching Zito when the lefthander was 12 and watched proudly when he won his first Cy Young.”It was great to inspire him,” he told a reporter back in 2002. Jones remains a part of the Padres community outreach efforts, speaking on behalf of the team to business and community groups and he has his own program on the Outdoor Channel — “Randy Jones Strike Zone.”

For me, at least, Randy Jones defines what it means to be a Padre. The Padres are (like Jones) a bright meteor of a team that, from time to time, will shock and awe before reverting to what they were in their darkest years: a left coast footnote waiting for an identity. Jones would probably and emphatically disagree. But Jones, more than either Colbert or Winfield (who went on to the Hall of Fame) is quintessentially San Diego. Then too, to give him his due, for a short time in the mid-1970s (when his sinker was sinking), Randy Jones was not only the hair-flying junk-ball master of San Diego — he was the best pitcher in baseball.

Nats Victims In Frisco, Face Friars

Friday, May 28th, 2010

There are plenty of ways to lose a ballgame — and the Nats used most of them on Thursday. Leading 4-2 against Frisco starter Barry Zito going into the seventh inning (and with the game seemingly in hand), the Nationals committed a costly error, the bullpen failed to close out the game, and Washington’s bats (which had undergone a revival of sorts on Wednesday), failed to rally. The result was a 5-4 loss to the Giants in a classic “if only” game that would have given the Nats a solid on-the-road series win. The bottom of the seventh started with what should have been an out, but a ground ball from Giants’ left fielder John Bowker skipped past first baseman Adam Dunn into the outfield. A passed ball followed. The Nats were still in the game and headed for a win when the usually reliable Sean Burnett gave up a single to Nate Schierholtz, whose single to center scored Bowker. Andres Torres singled to right and Freddy Sanchez — hitting against Tyler Walker — followed with another single. That was all the Giants would need.

Facing The Friars: The Padres are baseball’s surprise team — they lead the NL West by two, are nine games over .500 and have one of the best young pitching rotations in the majors. But let’s get real: the Friars don’t have an outfield, are backing and filling on defense (Chase Headley is scooping up the impossible at third, but that won’t last), and no one excepting Adrian Gonzalez has the power of Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham or Ivan Rodriguez. Credit the Padres magnificent start, then, to the pitching of groundball specialist Jon Garland, the always-around-the- strike-zone youngster Matt Latos and Pale Hose trade bait Clayton Richard. And, to be honest, the Little Monks have been helped immeasurably by an early schedule that featured massacres against Arizona, Milwaukee and Seattle.

This should not detract from what San Diego has accomplished. The Friars took three from San Francisco in mid-April, then four of five in May. The McCovey’s were embarrassed, as well they might be. Seven of eight wins against Frisco and dominant series against the three stooges (the Showboats, Brewers and Navigators) have been more than enough to compensate for what San Diego lacks: a line-up that (with two lone exceptions) does something besides stand at the plate and pretend to hit. Too harsh? The Padres rank 25th of 30 in BA, 25th in home runs, 25th in hits, and 22nd in RBIs. As for their pitching — well, they rank 1st in ERA, 1st in shutouts, and have given up fewer runs than any other team in baseball. They rank fifth in strike outs. What is even more impressive is that the San Diego rotation does not have a pitcher equal to the NL elite of Jimenez, Halliday, Wainwright, Lincecum, Carpenter, Haren or Hamels — relying for wins on free agent afterthought Jon Garland (6-2, 2.10 ERA), newcomer lefty Clayton Richard (4-2, 2.73 ERA),  talk-of-the-town speedballer Mat Latos (4-3, 3.09 ERA) and Frisco retread Kevin Correia (4-4, 4.03 ERA). Oh, and Heath Bell — who has an eye-popping 1.29 ERA to go with his 13 saves.

So here’s the question: are the Padres for real? The answer, as given by a Padres fan, is probably “no.” Writing in The Hardball Times, Friars’ partisan Geoff Young opines that the Friars “have gotten where they are by pitching way over their heads.” Which is to say — this isn’t going to last. Not only have the Padres yet to face the league’s stiffest competition, it’s hard to imagine that Garland & Company will match up well against a staff that features Halliday and Hamels, or Carpenter and Wainwright. That . . . and the Padres flat out just can’t hit. Of course the San Diego front office could dangle Adrian Gonzalez for a top-of-the-line bat, except for one thing — Gonzalez is a top-of-the-line bat. All of this is said while tempting the fates: for the Nats are headed into the dog bowl tonight to test the thesis that, sooner or later, the Pads will fold. But until they do, there’s this: if you can’t get to San Diego’s starters you’re not going to win. Because if you go into the 9th behind, you’ll be facing Heath Bell — the best closer in the game.

Nats Beat “The Freak”

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Tim Lincecum struggled on Wednesdayleaving his fastball up in the zone and failing to throw strikes with his curve — allowing the Nationals to score six runs and pound out six hits in taking the second game of a three game stint in San Francisco. Luis Atilano, meanwhile, dominated Giants’ hitters through the first four innings, before San Franciso put together a mini-rally in the fifth. Even with that, San Francisco (which is struggling at the plate) was unable to connect against Atilano, or Washington’s relievers. “Everything was working good,” Atilano said of his performance. “Finally, I was able to command my sinker. I was just throwing sinkers and changeups the first couple of innings. Everything was good. I was happy I finally got back to the point where I was on top of my game. Hopefully, it will keep going like that.” Atilano is now 4-1 on the season — and a surprise for the Nats — while Lincecum lost his first.

There’s no question the Nats need to start hitting. While the Anacostia Nine aren’t having the same problems at the dish as the Giants — who are scrambling to find their rhythm — the team’s anemic performance on Tuesday (two runs on just four hits in a 4-2 loss in San Francisco), serves as a cautionary note for a squad that should be among the NL’s leaders in scoring runs and hitting for average. They’re not. The Nats are in the middle of the pack in the NL in batting average (7th of 16), tenth in RBIs, tenth in hitting the long ball, ninth in walks and 11th in scoring runs. With Ivan Rodriguez on the DL, the team will need to have Wil Nieves step into his shoes not only behind the plate, but in the batter’s box. That doesn’t seem likely. Worse yet, the Nats are near the bottom in fielding (12th of 16), having committed more errors than any team but the Marlins. The good news? Surprise. Surprise. It’s the bullpen. The team leads the league in saves and has been solid in the middle innings. It’s a good thing, with a team ERA at 4.45, the Nats remain desperate for arms that can keep their opponents off the board.

Soylent Green Is People: There was an animated dugout conversation between Tim Lincecum and McCovey manager Bruce Bochy last night after Lincecum was removed from the game. Odds are that Bochy was zinging his ace for his inability to keep runners close at first. The Nats stole four bases on Lincecum, three of them in the top of the 5th and two of them on no-throws from catcher Benjie Molina . . . Rob Dibble’s “intestinal fortitude” speech came in inning 5 last night. This time Dibble’s victim was Luis Atilano. Dibble deemed Atilano’s performance “disappointing.” Really? Atilano gave up two earned and four hits in 5.1 and he might well have pitched a complete 6th if it hadn’t been for a Roger Bernadina misplay in right field. Then too, Atilano was coming off two previous rocky starts and was facing baseball’s best pitcher. What the hell is Dibble talking about? “These kids have to learn, there’s competition up here — they should be pitching like their hair is on fire.” Oh come on: two earned and four hits in 5.1? We’ll take it . . .

Speculation about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut is the focus of MLB baseball talk — and the Nats blogosphere. Nats Triple Play says that the Nats front office has been manipulating Strasburg’s debut for contract purposes (check) and to sell out a June 4 Friday night game (check). The Nationals Enquirer (meanwhile) gives the Nats a pass, noting that Mike Rizzo had never said when Strasburg would appear: “Heck, about the only thing the Nationals are guilty of is not stepping in sooner to squash the speculation around June 4th. And really: why should they have? It was only last night that anyone from the Nationals even mentioned June 4 as a possibility; and it was Rizzo denying that this date was written in stone.” Still, there’s a lot of anger on fan forums about the June 4 date. So here’s the deal: don’t listen to the Nats, listen to the pundits. About a month ago, baseball guru Tim Kurkjian had Strasburg starting against the Ahoys on June 10. That sounded about right, but Kurkjian might have been off by about two days. My bet is Strasburg will be on the mound on the 8th . . . so here’s a question: what happens if “the next big thing” gets hit around and Rigs has to pull him in the 4th? Let’s not kid ourselves — there are no guarantees . . .

Bay Watch

Monday, May 24th, 2010

How odd is it that, just over forty games into the season, the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants — teams so different in outlook, history and raw talent — would have almost identical records? And yet there it is: after suffering through a gut-wrenching five game losing streak, the Giants (predicted in the pre-season as one of the elite teams of the NL West), are one game over .500, as are the Nats (at 23-22). If the Giants are so much better than the Nats (as baseball analysts would have once claimed), then why are they playing so poorly?

At least a part of the answer became obvious on Sunday, as the McCoveys struggled through yet another punchless contest — registering a terminally fatal 0-18 with runners in scoring position and suffering their second consecutive shutout. The loss was particularly hard to swallow, as it came against their White Elephant rivals across the Bay, who not only swept the interleague series, but made the Giants look downright silly. Here’s the key, at least according to San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy: the Giants can hit, but only sometimes and even when they do, it’s not when runners are in a position to score.

Giants fans are becoming impatient: with one of the most formidable starting rotations in all of baseball, the Giants should be winning decisively. They’re not. Bochy has responded to the team’s hitting drought by shaking up the McCovey’s batting order: dropping outfielder Aaron Rowand into the sixth spot and moving speedster Andres Torres to the head of the line-up. But even Bochy has doubts this will work — San Francisco’s problem is that it lacks hitters who can hit for power and average. Pablo Sandoval is San Francisco’s premier (and popular) young power hitter, but his batting average stands at .282 — hardly something to brag about. Aaron Rowand, signed as a free agent to anchor the outfield and drive in runs, is hitting just .242 while import Freddy Sanchez is struggling to remain above the Mendoza line.

A comparison between a line-up struggling to generate runs and one that knows how to put them on the board is sobering. The Giants have put 33 dingers into the seats, the Nats 39; the Giants are hitting an anemic .257, the Nats are chugging along at .265 — the Giants have driven in 160 runs, the Nats 191. Which is to say: a San Francisco front office that boasts a starting rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Zito and Sanchez (truly, the Nats have no one to compare), is now having to scramble to find someone comparable to Willingham, Dunn, Zimmerman and Guzman — anyone of whom would add more power and average to the Giants line-up than anyone they currently have. Which is why, in the weeks ahead, the Giants will begin to search for the hitting they will so desperately need to catch the Friars and Trolleys for the NL West flag. They must know — the price will be high.

Rocky Mountain Low

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

You can be sure that the Oakland Athletics rue the day they traded outfield prospect Carlos Gonzalez to the Colorado Rockies. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has forged a torrid path to the top of the NL’s list of “most promising young outfielders,” hitting above .320 for most of the season and providing badly needed stability in the Rockies’ outfield. And while Gonzalez was only 2-8 in Colorado’s double tilt against the Nats on Saturday, his ten total bases were more than worrying: every time a Nats pitcher turned around there he was, dancing off some base. So while the narrative of the Nats double loss in Colorado on Saturday may rightly focus on the Livan Hernandez-Ubaldo Jimenez pitcher’s duel in the first game and the follow-on skittish play of a young Nats infield in the second, it’s hard for Nats fans to shake the feeling that if Luis Atilano had pitched Gonzalez a little closer in the third inning of the second tilt, “CarGo” would not have lifted one of his pitches (his fourth of the year) into the seats. The Gonzalez homer in the second game set up a three run third inning that made the Nats fight from behind for the rest of the night.

The twin losses in Colorado on Saturday put a pause on the endless praise for the Nats starting rotation. The starting five of Hernandez, Stammen, Lannan, Atilano and Olsen have been better than expected (in fact, much better than expected), but other teams in other divisions are as good — and, in some cases, much better. It’s hard to take issue with Colorado’s entry into these pitching sweepstakes. While Colorado fans (and the Rockies’ front office) are critical of Jason Hammel’s 2010 showing (and his 7.71 ERA), it’s awfully difficult to criticize Hammel for what he did against the Nats on Saturday, giving up three runs over seven innings in a steady, if unspectacular, outing. If Hammel can build off of that success the Helton’s will boast a rotation of Jimenez, Cook, Chacin, Hammel and a returning Jeff Francis — once one of the best young left handers in the game. Then too, Colorado is awaiting the return of closer Huston Street (who arrived in Denver, with Gonzalez, in that trade with the White Elephants) and Jorge De La Rosa — the hero of Colorado’s second half comeback in 2009. The Friars and McCovey’s currently lead the NL West, but if Francis returns to form and Street and De La Rosa pick up where they left off, the Rockies will be there in September.

Those Are The Headlines, Now For The Details: Nats’ lefty Sean Burnett was visibly irritated last Monday after Jim Riggleman lifted him after he’d pitched to one batter in Washington’s 3-2 win in New York. The former Ahoy had pitched sparingly up to that point, apparently viewed as a lefty-on-lefty specialist. But since then, Burnett has been one of Washington’s featured relievers. On Saturday, Burnett threw two innings in relief of Atilano (his longest outing of the year) and has lowered his ERA a full point over the last seven days. You have to wonder if Burnett said something to Riggleman. Something like “Hey skipper — do you really think I’m less effective than Brian Bruney? . . .

Not only is the right field platoon of Willie Harris and Willy Taveras a thing of the past, so too is Willy Taveras. The veteran outfielder was designated for assignment on Saturday, and has to decide whether to accept the assignment or file for free agency. He said he would let the team know after talking to his family. The Harris-Taveras platoon (which ended even before it began) will be replaced by a Roger Bernadina-Mike Morse platoon, but our bet here at CFG is that that won’t last either. If Bernadina stops hitting (and, quite frankly, he probably will), the job will be given to Morse, a former Mariner and Riggleman favorite. Morse has been out since April with a left calf strain.

Facing The Rockies

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The Nats took two of three from the Brewers, and might have swept the series — but for the Nat’s starting pitching. Even so, trailing by ten after the first inning in their third game match-up, the Nats made a contest of it on Sunday, pressing the Brewers’ relief corps and sending Milwaukee reeling into Pittsburgh (which, considering the resurgence of the Ahoys, is not necessarily good news). The Nats might not fare so well against the Colorado Rockies, who send Aaron Cook to the mound tonight at Nationals Park to face off against Washington starter Craig Stammen.

The Rockers are one of the four elite teams of the National League — on the same level as the Phillies, McCoveys and Red Birds. There’s a reason for that: they’re just plumb full of pitching. The talent doesn’t stop with no-hitter hero Ubaldo Jimenez. Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel and Greg Smith round out a solid rotation, which can only get better. If Jeff Francis successfully completes a rehab of his left shoulder, the Rockies could have the best pitching staff in the game. Indeed, there was a time when first sacker and slugger Todd Helton defined the team, but no more. The face of the Colorado franchise is now a bevy of solid starters capable of shutting down any NL team. So, just think how good they’ll be if Jeff Francis returns.

Of course that’s a huge “if.” The Rockies have been hit hard by pitching injuries: in addition to Francis (who, for a time, might have been considered one of the best starters in the game), the Rockies are missing savvy closer Huston Street (the pay-off Oakland made for giving up Matt Holliday), who is on the 15 day DL with a tweeky right shoulder. The Rockies need Street; closer-designate Franklin Morales has blown back-to-back saves, the most recent a heart-wrenching 4-3 loss at Atlanta that followed a dramatic last-inning loss to the (gulp) Mets. If the Rockies don’t have Street (and Colorado bloggers — like Purple Row — have been speculating that he might be down for more than April), they’re in trouble. But given his return, and the overpowering front-line of Ubaldo Jimenez, Aaron Cook and the emotional, if effective, Jorge De La Rosa (whose last half of ’09 was stunning), the Rockies are the team-to-beat in the NL West. And that’s true despite the out-of-body fear that most teams face when they play Tim Lincecum’s Giants.

Nats Leave Chad Hanging

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

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

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

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

A New Low, 14-2

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

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

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

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

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