Two Of Three From The Ahoys

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)

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