Archive for the ‘san diego padres’ 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)

Dunn Bombs San Diego

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

If there was any thought that somehow the Washington Nationals could get along without Adam Dunn, the hefty lefty must have put them to rest on Wednesday night. Dunn hit three dingers against a formidable San Diego pitching staff, solidifying his obvious importance as a run producer inside the 3-4-5 Nats batting order. It’s odd how things work (or seem to work): just as talk was heating up about how tough an out Joey Votto has been, Ryan Zimmerman nearly single handedly demolished the Friars on Tuesday — and thereby, we assume, made his own case for why he (and not Votto) should be an All Star. Now, on Wednesday, after hearing endless rumors about where he might be going in the weeks ahead, Dunn made the clearest statement possible for staying right where he is.

But the rumors continue. The most recent is that the Nats have asked the White Sox to pony up for Dunn, giving up a mix of hitters and prospects that would (or so the argument goes) strengthen the Nats defensively, but without subtracting any power. The most recent whisper is that the Nats will ask the Pale Hose to part with second sacker Gordon Beckham, apparently because of his slick glove and implied power. It must be implied, because Beckham is currently hitting an anemic .208, with two home runs. If the report is true (and we’ll just bet it is), the Nats will trade a proven slugger for a questionable starter that will plug a hole that doesn’t need plugging. Which is to say: the Nats solution at second base is not in Chicago — he’s in the dugout. Of course the hope here is that Dunn’s pyrotechnics last night might have, and should have, put this to rest. And if they didn’t, then perhaps what Ryan Zimmerman told the Post this morning will: “It’s really, really hard to find a 3-4-5.”

Zim Walks Off (Again)

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Ryan Zimmerman has been on a tear: he is 6-9 over his last two games and, on Tuesday night, he hit a walk off homer against the San Diego Padres to seal a hard-fought 6-5 victory at Nationals Park. The Zimmerman surge has come just at the right time; not only did it provide a nail-biting win over the NL West leading Friars, it may well have boosted Zimmerman’s All Star chances in a last-minute fan vote. Zimmerman is trailing Cincinnati slugger Joey Votto in a close contest for the final All Star spot. Zimmerman’s sudden rediscovery of his swing is good news for Nats fans, who were beginning to worry that Zim’s month-long slump would sink the Nats in the key home match-ups that face the team in the run-up to the All Star break. “I’ve been struggling the last three weeks, four weeks. It’s frustrating,” Zimmerman said after the game. “Nobody wants to do that. I’ve been working with Rick a little bit, and it’s finally starting to get where I want to be, so it’s good.”

Zimmerman’s bottom-of-the-ninth heroics were the talk of the ball club following the needed win over the Padres, as was the stellar outing the team received from Livan Hernandez, who threw seven innings of masterful ball in searching for his seventh win. But the 8th inning proved tough for the Nats, whose relievers have struggled of late: Tyler Clippard came on in relief and gave up two hits, as the Padres knotted the score at five. After wowing opposing hitters, and Nats fans, through the first three months of the season, Clippard has been shaky:  “I’ve been throwing the right pitches — maybe not executing them all the time,” Clippard said. “But tonight, I just felt like I made poor decisions. I felt like I should have thrown some things differently. It wasn’t the case, and I didn’t get the job done.” The Nats improved to 37-47 on the year, and face the Padres again tonight.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: “There something wrong with Stammen,” one of the section’s more well-informed fans said on Sunday. There was silence then, for two innings. “When you get a guy who’s good one outing and bad the next, it’s usually mental.” And then more silence until this — “how do you tweek a guy’s head?” Another fan, a known Stammen partisan, was supportive. “He’s a Maddux in the making,” he said. “You’ll see.” There were furtive looks and not a few eye rolls. “Yeah, but which one? Greg or Mike?” When Stammen walked off the field there was a smattering of applause and the man in the row in front shrugged his shoulders. “Mike. Mike Maddux.”

A successful Nyjer Morgan bunt brought this comment: “He’s been trying to take them down the third base line for three months, now suddenly he’s figured it out — he’s racing the ball to first. About time.” The comment brought nods and then, support, for the struggling center fielder: “Did you see that catch the other day?” Not all has been forgiven when it comes to Morgan, but nearly so. “Maybe he can play short” — which brought guffaws. The remembered circus catch in center has raised Morgan’s value — at least among section commenters. “Riggleman is defending him, on the basis of last year,” another fan said. A fan two seats down was unimpressed. “Yeah, I saw that.” In the eighth inning, as the Nats struggled to come back against the Mets, the talk turned to trades. “We’d have to give up some prime prospects for Dan Haren, but it’d be worth it.” And the response: “Think of it — Strasburg, Haren, Marquis, Hernandez, Zimmermann. That’s a pretty good starting five.” What about Olsen? a fan asked. The answer came, too quickly: “What about him?”

Nats Staff Still Unsettled

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The New York Mets provided the fireworks on July 4taking an 8-0 lead against the Washington Nationals and going on to register a “no contest” 9-5 victory at Nationals Park. The heat wasn’t the only thing that was unbearable at the stadium: up-and-down sometime starter Craig Stammen inaugurated the contest by serving up batting practice middle-of-the-plate pitches, which were duly deposited by Mets batters to all parts of the field. “I wasn’t very good. That’s the reason we lost. We move on,” Stammen said after the game. “It’s not anything physical. It’s how I’m thinking out there, a little bit, and sticking to the game plan little more — having conviction with my pitches.” Stammen’s outing, after a superior appearance last week versus the Bravos, was evidence enough that the Nats pitching staff still needs some kind of help.

The team’s pitching stats tell only a part of the story: while the Nats are just below the middle-of-the-pack in ERA (17th of 30, at 4.14), every other NL East team leads them with, not surprisingly, Atlanta at the very front of the division. While Washington’s bragging rights bullpen has been stellar (it ranks 9th in major league baseball), the stats don’t tell the entire story: the numbers imply that the Nats are bullpen dependent, calling on their middle relievers and closers in 35 of the first 40 games — more than anyone else except for three other MLB teams: proof positive (it seems) that the Nats starting pitching (while better than last year) is still woeful. Pitching into the 7th is a huge problem for the Nats rotation. A part of the team’s starting pitching problem is injuries (the DL list is a pitching graveyard), but it’s also true that the Nats simply lack the horses at the front of the rotation to climb out of last place in the “NL Least” — and there’s no guarantee that the return of Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen, Jason Marquis or Chien Ming-Wang will solve that problem.

The San Diego Padres roll into town today (with a game tomorrow night at Nats Park) with the best pitching staff around: a 3.07 ERA that is provided by a bevy of kids and veterans — Mat Latos has been the surprise, but he’s supplemented by a noted ground ball guru (Jon Garland) and a legendary closer. How did they get there? They followed the Rizzo Principles: they drafted and developed young pitchers (Latos was drafted in the 11th round in 2006, Wade LeBlanc was a second round pick in the same year) and then traded a veteran (Jake Peavy) for a passel of young prospects. If Mike Rizzo follows the same pattern he will wait on Zimmermann, Olsen, Marquis and Wang — and set aside the enormous temptation of trading Adam Dunn or Josh Willingham, whose middle-of-the-order bats are essential to transforming the young staff into winners. That’s probably a pretty good strategy for a team that’s still rebuilding, but it’s near-beer for Nats’ watchers. Which means? Which means that the Nats staff is not only unsettled, it’s likely to remain so.

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, Capps Defrock Friars

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

Matt Capps pitched out of a based loaded jam in the ninth inning to preserve a Washington Nationals and John Lannan win in San Diego, 5-3. The victory marked an all-the-way back start for the Washington mainstay, who had his best outing of the year — a seven inning, seven hit semi-gem that fed off the Friar’s lack of power and Washington’s ability to put the ball in the seats. Josh Willingham began the Washington scoring with a three run top-of-the-fourth dinger off of starter Clayton Richard, who held the Nats to four hits. Ian Desmond went 2-4 for the night, which included his fourth homer, a solo shot in the seventh. The game’s comic interlude was provided by San Diego, which filled out its staring line-up card incorrectly, spurring the Nats to play the game under protest. But the protest was dropped by the Nats front office after the win.

While Richard could not stop Washington’s long ball, San Diego manager Bud Black named closer Matt Capps as the difference in the game. Capps struck out two and then induced a ground ball to pitch out of the ninth inning jam. “That was a tough one for Capps, and he got it done,” Black said following the San Diego loss. “He’s pitched well. He has that in him. We had some good swings, but we just didn’t connect. We got it in position with those four hits there in the ninth, but it just didn’t turn out.” Capps register his 17th save, throwing 24 pitches, 17 for strikes. His ERA now stands at 2.96. The Nats face off against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego in a Saturday night game that will feature recently recalled Nats Triple-A pitcher (and spot starter in 2009), J.D. Martin against young Friar hurler Mat Latos.

Waiting For Strasburg Stanton: While Washington fans speculate endlessly about just when Stephen Strasburg will make his debut in the Bigs, Fish Fans are all agog about Michael Stanton — “the next big thing” in Florida. While Stanton (more properly, Giancarlo Cruz-Michael Stanton) was hardly judged a “phenom” when he was drafted in the second round (79th overall) of the 2007 draft, his semi-meteoric rise through the Marlins farm system (he’s now at Double-A Jacksonville) has been accompanied by a breathtaking display of power. Back on May 6, one of Stanton’s towering drives in Montgomery not only cleared the centerfield wall, it sailed effortlessly over the 95 foot scoreboard behind it. Stanton’s teammates immediately engaged in speculation about whether the ball would ever be found — it wasn’t.

The Marlins clearly know what they have, fueling speculation about just when Stanton will appear — and what kind of difference he’ll make when he does. The excitement is not confined to the front office: when not waiting for Hanley’s next tantrum, the Uggla-Cantu Fins are twittering about Stanton’s prodigious shots. This is not all hype: through his first 38 games this year (albeit, at Jacksonville), Stanton is hitting .310 with 16 home runs and 39 RBIs with a .447 on-base percentage. He leads the minors in just about everything having to do with hitting. There’s no reason to think this won’t continue with the big club, when he’s called up sometime in June. He’s “Florida big,” following the Marlins’ tradition of drafting tall ironman types that are more Ruth than Ripken.

Of course, Stanton’s arrival as “the next big thing” is highly anticipated by Marlins’ fans (here they are), in large part because the last big thing (Cameron Maybin) hasn’t worked out so well — and because, despite fielding a good team, Miami’s fans seem as unexcited as any team in baseball not named the Blue Jays. It’s no wonder then, that Marlins President Larry Beinfest channels Mike Rizzo when he talks about Stanton, giving cagey answers to reporters who hound him about Stanton’s prospective arrival. Beinfest knows what he’s doing — increasing speculation about just when Florida’s version of Jason Heyward will arrive at Landshark Stadium. Patience, patience, Beinfest says. Stanton justs needs to continue working on his game “and the rest will take care of itself.”

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 Bats and . . . The Chicago Fire

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

J.D. Martin pitched six solid innings, giving up just five hits and two earned runs, but the Nationals dropped their fifth game in a row as the Padres defeated them at the dog bowl in San Diego 4-1. Martin had the game well in hand until the top of the seventh, when pinch hitter Oscar Salazar put a Martin offering into Petco’s left field stands, sealing the victory. With the Anacostia Nine’s bats asleep, four runs were all that starter Clayton Richard needed to wrap up the victory. The Nats’ lone run came off the bat of Josh Bard, who homered in the seventh. The Padres played tough defense against the Nationals, especially in the outfield, where two line drives that might have been hits by Nats players were snagged on near-spectacular plays. Interim manager Jim Riggleman admitted that the Nats needed to find a way to start hitting. “We’re either hitting, or we’re not, and right now, we’re not hitting,” he said. “You’ve got to find another way to win a ballgame. Part of it is that they played really well. They made plays all over the field again tonight. They robbed our guys of hits all night and stopped rallies.”

The Chicago Fire: Emerging Friars’ ace Clayton Richard took the win over the Nats on Tuesday, throwing 6.2 innings of four hit ball. His win was not a masterpiece, by any means, but part of a steady progression that has won him a regular place in a starting rotation for a team that is not that far away from featuring one of baseball’s better young staffs. Richard walked two and struck out six and is now 8-4 on the season. The tall (6-5) lefty is a former White Sox eighth round draft choice in 2005 who moved up through the Sox system. A midwesterner, Richard came to the Pale Hose out of the University of Michigan, where he played football and baseball. He expected to be a part of the White Sox for many years to come. But all of that changed at the trade deadline, when Richard was shipped to San Diego for Padres ace Jake Peavy. Richard isn’t the only young hurler the Sox gave up in the hopes of getting better. The second part of the Peavy deal was Aaron Poreda, a fireballing lefty and strikeout artist that will probably be featured, at least initially, in the Padres bullpen. Along with Dexter Carter and Adam Russell (four pitchers in all) the Sox banked a lot on Peavy. Maybe too much.

Nationals Padres Baseball

But all of this is old news. The new news is that the White Sox made the trade in the belief that Peavy would not only help them next year, and the next, but that he could be a factor in the stretch run for this season. That hasn’t exactly worked out. Peavy’s ankle is apparently healed, but not his elbow, and no one is quite sure when he’ll be back. He seems bit somehow by bad luck, or an injury bug — or something: in a rehab start before returning to Chicago, he was hit by a scroched line-drive through the box and left the game. When will he return? Will he return? Who knows.

So with the Pale Hose fading in their division, White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams decided enough is enough — and just before midnight on Monday he dumped salary and players, waving the white flag in Chicago: Jim Thome went to the Dodgers, Jose Contreras to the Rockies. While he can’t do much else this year, it’s not likely that “Crazy” Kenny is done shaking things up in the Windy City: the talk in Chicago is that Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski will be gone soon after the end of the season and that super prospect Tyler Flowers (called up after the Thome trade) will be given every opportunity to win the catching job. Konerko and Pierzynski won’t be the only ones headed out of town. Anyone need an aging hitter? Jermaine Dye (who was rumored to be headed to the Giants at the end of August) is available. 

The Chicago Fire was occasioned by “the road trip of death” as some Chicago blogs are calling it, a breathtaking end-of-August 1-7 death spiral that saw the Pale Hose drop out of contention in a baseball division called — get this — the A.L. Central. The best analysis came from South Six Sox: “With the Sox sinking out of the race, facing a September of disappointing turnstile numbers, and little to no hope of the significant influx of cash a playoff appearance provides, Kenny Williams’ hand was forced. Well maybe not forced, but certainly coerced.” Sox Machine, meanwhile, headlined the moves with the description: “Go West, Old Men” — a sign perhaps of just how alienated the Sox faithful have become. Oddly, Clayton Richard’s performance against the Nats puts an exclamation point to the White Sox latest moves. There’s no question — and absolutely no doubt — that Jake Peavy is a master and one of the best pitchers in baseball. But let’s be blunt. Maybe the problem isn’t Thome and Contreras, maybe the problem is Kenny Williams. After all, wouldn’t Sox fans rather have Clayton Richard on the mound in Chicago than Jake Peavy rehabbing somewhere in Alabama?

Nats Need Clutch Hits

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

The Nats skid now stands at four, with three losses in St. Louis, followed by last night’s loss in San Diego to the Padres — a 3-1 affair in which Livan Hernandez was his usual steady self, pitching a winnable game (eight innings, 90 pitches, 54 strikes, fourteen groundouts) and holding the Friars to all of seven hits. Nor does it seem that the Nats bats need any fine tuning: the Anacostia Nine outhit the Padres, eight to seven, regularly pushing baserunners into scoring position. So what’s the problem? A study of this mini-losing streak (as the Nats on-line article on the subject describes it) is that the Nats are not getting key hits when they most need them — and are leaving too many men on base. This isn’t rocket science. Let’s check the numbers.

Braves Nationals Baseball

Starting with the first game in St. Louis — a 3-2 loss to the Redbirds — the Nats collected seven hits, but left 12 runners on base. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were a symbol of consistency, pushing home three runs while leaving only eight on base and only two of those in scoring position. The next day (another loss) the Nationals collected eleven hits, while leaving 16 men on base. Oddly (or perhaps not) the Cardinals had the same number of hits, but were more efficient: their elevin hits scored nine runs — the Nats’ eleven hits scored only four. The final loss in St. Louis looked like the previous two; the Nats hit well, but not when it counted: the Mock-Wainwright pitchers’ duel was even-up in terms of hits at four apiece, but not in terms of scoring. And the Nats left 14 men on base, the Cardinals nine. By now  the pattern ought to be clear — but was repeated in San Diego, where Nats’ batters left sixteen men on base, while the Padres left seven. In order for the Nats to break their current losing streak they not only need to hit (the numbers show that they’ve actually been doing that), they need to do it when it counts.

Nats Struggle In St. Louis

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Matt Holliday loves St. Louis. Since coming to the Cardinals, the former Colorado Rockies-Oakland Athletics outfielder is hitting .376 with a .438 OBP for the Redbirds. On Saturday, his three run homer all but decided the 9-4 contest, giving the loss to Nats’ starter Craig Stammen. And so after taking two of three from the struggling Cubs in Chicago, the Nats have now dropped two in St. Louis, but with hopes that the team can recover on Sunday in the final game of a three game set. On Sunday night, the Nats will travel to San Diego to take on the resurgent Friars, who are riding a  miraculous three game winning streak against the sinking Florida Marlins. Holliday’s homer came in the first, and while it did not seal the game for the Redbirds, it cast a bright light on the Cardinals’ strength since the trading deadline, when Holliday arrived: a team that could break out the big bats and score a slew of runs in backing what is one of the N.L. strongest starting staffs.

A disappointed Elijah Dukes struck out with the bases loaded in the 7th (AP/To Gannam

A disappointed Elijah Dukes struck out with the bases loaded in the 7th (AP/To Gannam)

“That’s what makes their lineup good,” Stammen said. “They’ve got multiple guys that can hurt you, back-to-back-to-back,” Craig Stammen admitted after the game. “When I went out there, I was like, ‘You know what? Have fun. Have fun trying to get the best hitters in the game out.’ And for the most part, it was kind of fun, except when they got me.” Stammen was not only victimized by Holliday. A key error by Cristian Guzman in the fifth inning helped the Cards score four unearned runs after two outs. Stammen defended his shortstop. Guzman has made enough plays for me this year that I’m not really worried about the one mistake that he makes,” said starter Craig Stammen. Adam Dunn provided Washington’s power, hitting his 35th home run in the 6th.

Down On Half Street: It seems the only time anyone in the N.L. Least can win a game is when they play each other. At least that’s the way it’s been lately. The Mets, reeling from a raft of injuries and the effects of age, were pummeled by the Cubs on national television on Saturday, 11-4, with Cubs supersub Jake Fox hitting a grand slam off of Mets youngster Bobby Parnell. Parnell is the hope of the future, but he’s had a rocky August. Nevertheless, the team pledges that “The Bobby Parnell Project” as they call it, will continue. Parnell is fairly philosophical about it all, admitting that his last outings have been “up and down.” Mostly down, actually . . .

It’s not possible for things to be worse in Florida, but they (nearly) are. You get the feeling that this is a ballclub that is on the verge of taking itself apart. On Friday, versus the little brown priests, Chris Volstad barely made it to the top of the dugout steps before he was shipped out to New Orleans.  Volstad, all 6-8 of him, lasted 1.2 innings (but just barely) and gave up six earned runs. He had a 5.08 ERA in the show. (We’ll take him.) On Saturday, the Marlins (hoping to catch the Phillies) sent out their ace, Ricky Nalasco. But they forgot to bring their bats. In six innings they mustered four hits against no-name Friars’ hurler Wade LeBlanc. Don’t underestimate Wade — he has an ERA of 9.58. Either Wade looked like Roger McDowell, or the Phish looked like the Bad News Bears. One guess . . .

Up in Philadelphia, things are proceeding apace for the Phuzzies, who are breezing their way to a division crown. Out in South Philly, the guys who stand around on the corner and talk tough are even trying to figure out the dimensions of the statue to Cliff Lee that will grace the front of the Philadelphia Art Museum — where they never go. Right next to the one of that other great Philly cultural icon, Rocky Balboa. But the Cliff Lee Express was derailed on Saturday, when the Chops decapitated Lee in front of a sold out crowd at Citizens Bank Park. The Chops barrage of homers (Diaz, Escobar, Anderson, Jones) reached such a din that it was like listening to the 1812 Overture. “It’s hard to get good results when you’re throwing pitches belt high and down the middle of the plate,” Lee said after the game. “That’s basically what happened. I feel good about throwing strikes, working ahead and not walking people, but I put myself in positions to put them away and I missed up and down the middle. If you consistently do that, that’s what’s going to happen.” The final butcher’s bill? 9-1 Atlanta.