Posts Tagged ‘chicago cubs’

Nats Bats (And Lannan) Scuttle Pirates

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The hitting of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and the stellas pitching of John Lannan paced the Washington Nationals to a 9-2 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park on Saturday. Rodriguez led the Nats’ fifteen hit attack, with an opposite field home run, while John Lannan pitched seven complete — giving up only five hits. It was his best outing of the year and solidified his place in the rotation for 2011. “Pudge and I did a great job just mixing it up on both sides of the plate,” Lannan said after the game. “I threw some [four-seam fastballs] inside to righties and some [two-seam fastballs] into lefties. I had my changeup working again, and that’s been the pitch I’ve gone to if I was getting behind hitters. It kept them off-balance a little bit. You get a little more comfortable out there when your team puts up that many runs.”

Desmond Makes His Case: Washington Nationals’ rookie shortstop Ian Desmond is making a strong case for being considered as the N.L.’s premier rookie. But two obstacles stand in his way — he makes too many errors (31! — including two last night), and the competition is stiff. The early betting was that Atlanta’s Jason Heyward would win the award, and for a time it looked like he would. Heyward set the baseball world chattering through April and May, but his production fell off through the summer. Still: .282 with 16 home runs (and he’s only 20) could find him shoehorned into the top spot. The betting now seems to be that Buster Posey will get the nod — despite the fact that he started the season late. Tim Dierkes over at MLB Trade Rumors posted a list in April that included all of the good guesses, which included Heyward and Desmond, as well as Florida’s Gaby Sanchez, San Francisco’s Buster Posey, Chicago’s Starlin Castro, Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez, Washington’s Drew Storen (and Stephen Strasburg), and Cincinnati’s Mike Leake. That leaves out Cubbie Tyler Colvin, who’s having a tremendous year — he’s stroked 19 home runs.

You can make a strong case for Desmond, who has raised his batting average over the last month from the so-so mid-.260s to .287 — an unforeseen spike that, if it continues, could see the 24-year-old ending the season near .300. And Desmond has unpredicted power, line-driving nine home runs. That number could easily increase in 2011. Desmond’s long-ball potential is a plus for the Nats, who would gladly take a .280 batting average with a handful of home runs each year — but 20? 25? Desmond says that he patterns his play on the model provided by Empire glove man Derek Jeter and his numbers show it. While Jeter seems to be struggling for homers as he ages, the pinstriper once hit 24, a number well within reach of his younger apprentice. But Jeter’s value is his day-in-and-day-out crusade in the middle of the Yankees infield, his ability to play virtually injury free and his steady glove-work. Ah, and he has a .314 lifetime BA — which Desmond might find difficult to equal. Desmond is right to emulate his hero, but he has a long way to go to reach his level (cutting down on the errors would be the way to start). It’s the fielding stats that will likely doom Desmond in any final voting for the Jackie Robinson Award, which means that Giants workhorse Buster Posey will get the nod. It’s hard to argue with that choice — with a .328 batting average, he deserves it.

Dunn, Nats Clobber Cards

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

So here’s the question: how can the Washington Nationals — so toothless against an also-ran and struggling team like the Chicago Cubs — play so well against the St. Louis doom-machine Cardinals? It could be (of course) that the Nats simply play better against stiffer competition (a notion belied by their record against good teams), or it could be (as it seemed on Saturday night) that the team was just due. Whatever the reason, the Washington Nationals finally broke loose against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, plating fourteen runs on sixteen hits, to clobber the Cardinals, who seem suddenly mediocre against struggling teams. The difference on Saturday was Adam Dunn. The left handed swinging behemoth, mired in a month-long slump, provided the impetus for the Nats to break out of their doldrums: Dunn was 2-3 with five RBIs, hitting a towering fly in the 5th for his 32nd home run. “I hit the home run really good,” Dunn said after the win. “I just knew the ball was really high. At this park, you really never know.”

But Dunn was not the only one on fire on Saturday. Michael Morse also had a hot hand, going 4-4 and scoring two runs, while Adam Kennedy, Roger Bernadina, Ryan Zimmerman and Ivan Rodriguez had two hits each. Over the last two games, the Nationals (whose offense has been positively anemic through much of August) have scored 25 runs on 25 hits, a symmetry rarely equaled through the last five months. While the Nationals might seem to have little to play for (they are nearly 20 games out in the race for the N.L. East Division crown), the same cannot be said of the Cardinals — who need every win they can get to keep pace with the surging Cincinnati Reds, who retain a four game lead over the Cardinals in the N.L. Central. The Cardinals are now faced with a chilling end-of-August reality: unless they start playing better against teams like the Nationals, they will cap a very good season without a shot at the playoffs. For the final game of this four game series, the Nationals will send John Lannan against Albert Pujols & Company on Sunday at Nationals Park.

Scoring The Nationals: Each game — and every year — provides its own scoring rarities. Two occurred on Saturday night that I have never seen before, or scored before. While “keeping a book” is always a challenge, the application of little-known rules to in-game situations can be discomforting. When Ian Desmond was called out for running outside the baseline in the third inning (how often, really, do you see that?) MASN play-by-play host Bob Carpenter helped me along: “That’s scored 3u,” he said — first base putout, unassisted. But the play demanded an asterisk — an outside-the-tradition personal tic that I use to note a rarity (some scorers use an asterisk to denoted a stellar defensive play, I prefer an exclamation point). There was a second asterisk (it’s important to limit their use) that I used in Saturday’s game. It came in the 8th inning, when Nyjer Morgan was called out at home plate (or, more pertinently, behind it), after being touched by a Nationals’ player. Once again Carpenter helped: “That scored 2u,” he said.

The problem with using an asterisk is that it always demands an explanation: which I give in a sentence at the bottom of my score sheet. The July 9 Strasburg beauty against the Giants (6 innings, 3 hits, 1 ER), for instance, included this asterisk in the first inning: “Cain throws it into the ground.” The asterisk was enough for me to recall a memorable moment in the 2010 season — when Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain lost his grip on the ball, which led to Roger Bernadina scoring the Nationals’ first run from second base. The official scoring, I claim, provided only a limited (and even puzzling) explanation that doesn’t really tell the story: “E: Cain (1, pickoff).” There are some events, however, that drive me back to paging through the best best resource on scoring, Paul Dickson’s “The Joy of Keeping Score” (it ought to be called “The Agony of Keeping Score”) which includes one scorer’s “WW” notation — “wasn’t watching.” That happens.

Of course, and as Dickson himself will readily admit, there are some events that happen on the field that simply can’t be scored — though they are fascinating. For instance: I was mightily confused with an event in Philadelphia, when Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was stopped by umpires from visiting the mound after heading into the clubhouse for a new glove. Why was he stopped and sent back behind the plate? Why, why, why, why, why? I didn’t get it, and the announcers seemed as puzzled — finally just dropping the subject. The puzzle was finally answered (after much thought) by a family member (here he is) who provided this explanation: “If the catcher goes into the clubhouse and then emerges from the dugout to go to the mound, it constitutes a visit,” he said. “The umpires told him — and he decided against it.” Fascinating — and correct. But it has to be remembered; it can’t be scored.

(above: Adam Dunn photo by AP/Susan Walsh; below: Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack used his scorecard to give signals)

Marquis Is Back, Nats Fall

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Nats starter Jason Marquis appears to be all the way back from surgery to remove “foreign bodies” in his elbow, pitching masterfully in 7.1 innings against the Chicago Cubs at Nationals Park on Wednesday. But the New Yorker’s outing did not result in a win, as the Cubs victimized the Nationals’ bullpen and went on to register a win, 4-0. The victory sealed a Cubs’ sweep of the three game series. Marquis, who the Nationals signed as a free agent in the off season, received a standing ovation as he walked from the mound in the 8th. “I was attacking the strike zone,” Marquis said. “The more I’ve been throwing, I’m creating better habits and allowing myself to make those pitches in the bottom of the zone. I let my defense do the work, which I have done the last few years. It’s definitely exciting to be back.”

After successive games in which the bullpen shut down the Cubs, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett pitched poorly — with Clippard yielding a double to Cubs rookie shortstop Starlin Castro, scoring Tyler Colvin from first base. That was all the Cubs would need. After the loss, Nationals skipper Jim Riggleman seemed to respond to rising complaints about the Nationals losing streak — and rising criticism of his decision making: “I’m certainly disappointed in our record,”  Riggleman said after the game. “I know our guys are playing hard, they are giving effort. The intensity is there, the hurt is there. We are suffering. We’re getting beat. I don’t like getting beat. I’m sick of it. I know our players are. It’s a game of character. Our character is being tested. We have to pass that character test.”

The Wisdom Of Section 1-2-9: You know that fans are losing heart when they begin to give away their tickets. This is what’s happening in Section 129, as an entirely new cohort of “fans” showed up for the Zambrano game, including a New Yorker who was (I swear) the spitting image of actor Chazz Palminteri — the tough talking “Agent Kujan” of “The Usual Suspects.” He and his friend (a separated at birth twin for New York cop — and Kujan sidekick — Sgt. Jeff Rabin) elbowed their way into my row in the top of the 3rd inning, pushing aside the regulars. “Hey buddy, you’re in our seats,” the Kujan look-alike said. I shook my head. Kujan held out his tickets: “Oh yeah?” The tickets said he and his friend were actually in Section 130. “You’re over there.” He eyed me for a minute: “We’ll sit here.” Okay, fine. But I had an overwhelming urge to ask him whether he’d ever heard of Keyser Soze. I tried to remember the line, but couldn’t — and then, suddenly, it was there: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I thought about it for a minute, but let it go.

“Agent Kujan” ignored me, but then started chatting in the 5th — I was keeping score and he looked at my book. “Hey buddy, you’re really into this.” I nodded: “It’s my diversion.” He gave me a crooked smile. “What the hell’s that mean?” I thought for a moment. “A hobby.” This seemed to satisfy him, but in the 6th he began peppering me with questions. “So they got nothin’, I mean the Nats — they got nothin‘.” Well, I said, they’ve got Zimmerman. He nodded: “The third baseman, yeah — sure. But that’s it.” And Dunn, I added. “Yeah,” he said, “but outside of that, they got nothin’.” I shrugged: well, and they’ve got “the kid at shortstop” and “the new pitcher — Strasburg — and . . .” He didn’t like it: “Listen buddy, I’m tellin’ ya, they got nothin’. Believe me.” Half an inning later he took it up again. “If they’re so good, why ain’t they in first place?” Good point, actually. “They don’t have any pitching,” I said, nodding. His buddy leaned across Kujan, his eyebrows up. He wagged his finger. “First thing you said — first thing you said.”

Kujan tried again in the 7th. “Hey buddy,” he said. “Who’s that shortstop up in New York? You know — the good one.” You mean Derek Jeter, I responded. “No, no. The other one.” Verbil Kint? Dean Keaton? Kobayashi? “Jose Reyes,” I said. “Yeah, that the one. Now there’s a heck of a ballplayer.” His buddy nodded vigorously. “Too true. When you’re right, you’re right.” Ah, Mets fans. That explained everything. But Kujan was just getting started. “You know, the Cubs are going to have a new manager next year. Could be anyone.” I nodded, and mentioned that I heard that Joe Girardi or Joe Torre might be interested in the job. He was insulted, shaking his head — Palminteri like. “You kiddin’ me? No way. Let’s me tell you something buddy,” he said. “Joe Torre ain’t gonna take it. No way. He loves it out there in L.A. And who wouldn’t, that what I say. And Girardi? You think a guy’s gonna move outa New York to go to Chicago?” I guess you’re right, I said. His buddy chimed in: “When you’re right, you’re right. That’s what I always say. When you’re right, you’re right.” By the 8th inning, with the Cubs ahead by five, Kujan had had enough, elbowing past me. “Good talkin to ya,” he said.

And like that — poof. He was gone.”

Cubs Stymie Nats Rally

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Adam Kennedy’s bases clearing double in the ninth inning wasn’t enough to bring the Nats back from a 5-1 deficit, as the Chicago Cubs, behind the strong pitching of starter Carlos Zambrano, stymied a Nationals’ rally to win at Nationals Park on Tuesday night, 5-4. Kennedy’s clutch hit preceded a long drive off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman to account for the third out and end the game. Zimmerman’s long fly (on an outside corner fastball from Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol) brought the crowd to their feet, with visions of another Zimmerman miracle, but right fielder Kosuke Fukudome reached up at the last moment to snag the headed-for-the wall game tying drive. “I thought it had a shot to get over Fukudome’s head. It was a good at-bat against a tough pitcher,” Zimmerman said after the almost-but-not-quite hit. “He is not an easy guy to get hits off of. He [Marmol] strikes out everyone pretty much. It was a good job to battle back and have a chance to win.” The loss brought the Nationals to twenty games under .500 — their worst record of the year.

Birds Of Prey vs. Crippled Sparrows

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

If there were ever any doubts that starting pitching makes a huge difference in a team’s success, that doubt was put to rest during Washington’s recent three game visit to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Phillies “book-ended” the Nats by throwing two of baseball’s best starting pitchers against them, and taking two of three games from the still struggling Anacostia Nine. The one Nats win might have been predicted, as it came against Phillies’ hurler Kyle Kendrick (a young high-ERA righty who is still learning his trade), while the Nats’ losses came against two of the game’s best starters: Roy “Doc” Halladay (in a 1-0 squeaker on Friday) and Roy Oswalt — in a 6-0 blowout on Sunday. The Nats might have won on Friday, with successive runners in scoring position, but Halladay was the difference — lowering his ERA to 2.16 in seven innings of steady if unspectacular work — but the issue was never in doubt on Sunday, when Roy Oswalt sliced and diced the Nats line-up through seven innings of brilliant work.

And the Chicago Cubs? (If you have the music for 2001: A Space Odyssey, you might consider putting it on now.)

The Chicago Cubs are an entirely different story. The North Side Drama Queens, who open a series against the Nationals on Half Street on Monday night, have no one to compare with either Halladay or Oswalt — and the standings show it. The rotation that carried the Cubs into the post-season in 2008 is now past its prime, and the Chicago front office knows it. The once effective Carlos Zambrano (14-6 in 2008) is battling his anger as much as opposing batters, Ted Lilly has been shipped off to L.A. for a passel of minor league wannabes, Jason Marquis was rendered to Colorado (and then signed as a free agent here in D.C.), and Rich Harden (beset by arm problems) is struggling in Texas. The only appendage of note belongs to Ryan Dempster who, now into his mid-30s, is the staff “ace” — which means he’s won more than ten games. That Dempster stands out at all is due more to his rotation mates: a gaggle of Fisher-Price kids who look like they’d be more comfortable on the dance floor of the 9:30 Club than on the mound in Wrigleyville.

Chicago’s one young hurler of note is Randy Wells, a surprise-surprise arm who was drafted by the Slugs as a catcher in the 38th round of the 2002 amateur draft. Wells came to the show in 2009 as a fill-in for the then-injured Zambrano and pitched himself into a regular spot in the Chicago rotation — yielding a jaw-dropping 12-10 record. Tom Gorzelanny is the Cubs’ lefty, a former Buc who has had his tires recapped in Chicago after one good year in Pittsburgh. Gorzelanny “has battled injuries and inconsistency” — a Zen-like phrase for Cubs fans. Dempster, Wells and Gorzelanny are hardly the Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance of the future Chicago rotation, but the Cubs have high hopes for rookie Casey Coleman, a young righty whose grandfather (Joe) and father (Joe) were both major leaguers. But let’s not get all gooey: Coleman (who will pitch against the Nationals tonight) is not only untried and untested, he’s been lit-up in the 12 innings he’s pitched.

That leaves Thomas Diamond, a former Texas Ranger fast-track product sidetracked by Tommy John surgery in 2007 (at least he’s gotten that out of the way), who’s “all up-side,” which means he doesn’t have a clue. The bottom line? While there’s no guarantee the Nats will have an easier time against the Cubs than they did against the Phillies, there will be no Halladay or Oswalt trooping to the mound to face them. The Phillies have built an elite staff. They are birds of prey. And the Cubs? The Cubs are crippled sparrows — they’re starting over.

Photos: Roy Oswalt (AP/H. Rumph Jr). Randy Wells (AP/Nam Y. Huh)

Nats Defeat Lowe (Again)

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Atlanta Braves hurler Derek Lowe is puzzled: while the Braves sometime ace remains an effective starter against much of the National League (even while sporting a so-so 11-11 record), he can’t seem to beat the Nats. The last time Lowe beat the Anacostia Nine was last August, but he’s been winless against the Nats Nine since, a record of futility that the imposing righthander (6-5, 230) has trouble squaring with Washington’s losing record. “I can’t remember the last time that I beat the Nationals,” Lowe said in the wake of the Tomahawks’ 6-2 loss to the Nationals on Thursday. “They’ve given me a rough time.” But it was not so much Lowe’s pitching (seven innings with 6 hits), as it was a combination of the pitching from Washington starter John Lannan (who went a strong 5.1) and a no-hits bullpen that caused the Braves fits. When coupled with big hits from Michael Morse and Willie Harris, the Nats looked unstoppable, picking up a much-needed win (that’s number 52 on the season). The Nats now head into Philadelphia, where they’ll face the red-hot Ashburns.

The Quicker Picker Upper: The inevitable has happened in Chicago, with Cubs’ General Manager Jim Hendry cleaning out the stables of the sinking-like-a-stone North Side Drama Queens. The trade of the ever-popular Ryan Theriot and Ted Lilly (their most effective starter) to Los Angeles at the trade deadline was followed by the careless unloading of steady but unimpressive Mike Fontenot to the McCoveys. Now, in what can only be considered an official waving of the white flag, the Cubs have unloaded their most productive, good-glove-and-bat first baseman Derrek Lee, who went to the Braves for three maybes. The successive trades mark a generational shift in the future of the Cubs, as the front office has apparently decided that Theriot-Lilly-Fontenot-Lee powerhouse of just a few years ago has gotten too old and too mediocre to bring a pennant (or World Series championship) to the Windy City. The issue is not whether the trades should have been made, but why they weren’t made earlier. “None of us thought this was going to happen this year. We really didn’t,” Hendry said in annoucing the trade of Lee. ”It will be good for (Lee) and from that regard, I’m happy for him. But the overall situation we’re in kind of makes us all stumble between miserable and sad every day.”

Miserable? Sad? The Cubs just dropped four straight to the Padres and are a worse team than the Nats — much worse. So while Cubs fans might have been expected to be marching on Wrigley in protest at Lee’s departure, the Cubs blogosphere has viewed the trade as inevitable — and necessary. Al Yellon over at Bleed Cubbie Blue probably said it best, mixing respect for Lee with a sighing confirmation that the Cubs’ future did not include the impressive first baseman. “I salute D-Lee for his classy demeanor on and off the field,” Yellon wrote. “Some here complain that he wasn’t demonstrative enough on the field and though he was seen as a team leader, many wanted him to ‘show it’ more, though I’m not quite sure how you do that.” While Cubs fans remain oddly contemplative (there’s usually lynching parties at this point) the scapegoating of Hendry (well, perhaps for good reason) and the coaching staff has begun.

That’s probably unnecessary. The imminent departure of Lou Piniella is bound to be followed by the displacement of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, as the Ricketts’ family retools to a younger staff that reflects a younger team. Is there reason for hope? Yes. And no. The Cubs are able to field one of the game’s best young outfielders in Tyler Colvin and one of its best young shortstops in Starlin Castro. But the team’s starting pitching is a catastrophe — with few young phenoms coming up in the minors. Which is why Hendry is trading his front line for a few maybes, all of them arms. Which means that the Cubs new rotation and bullpen (with some exceptions) is now filled with a gaggle of no-names, like Thomas Diamond, Justin Berg, Mitch Atkins, Marcos Mateo and James Russell — each of these guys with (as they say) “a tremendous upside.” Roughly translation: we might, or might not, ever hear of them again.

Nats Win Snakes’ Series

Monday, August 16th, 2010

The Nationals defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3 at Nationals Park on Sunday, taking two games of a three game series. The game marked the second return of Stephen Strasburg following his stint on the D.L., and “the kid” pitched well, despite giving up a home run to Adam LaRoche and making an errant throw to first baseman Adam Dunn. “I was talking to Stephen a little bit ago. He said that it is the best he felt,” Nats’ skipper Jim Riggleman said, following the victory. “The ball was coming out of his hand good. Stras did a great job and gave us a chance to win.” The Nats trailed the D-Backs 3-1 into the bottom of the fourth, when slumping Josh Willingham shook loose from his doldrums and launched a pitch off of D-Backs starter Barry Enright to tie the game. The Nats won the game on a single by Ian Desmond, with Ryan Zimmerman providing an insurance homer. Typically, the Nats’ bullpen closed out their opponents, with Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett and Drew Storen shutting down the Arizona order.

The Ghost of Kerry Wood: Nats’ fans at the ballpark on Sunday probably didn’t get a chance to see Strasburg’s frustration with being lifted after pitching just five innings, but “the kid” was clearly angered by the move. Strasburg, mouth set and eyes flashing, sat the bench after the end of the fifth inning fuming. At least that’s what the fans at home saw, with Strasburg’s irritation coming in waves through the camera lens. Nats pitching czar Steve McCatty intervened with an explanation, speaking with animation as Strasburg shook his head on the bench. This isn’t the first time that Strasburg has been angered, though he never mentions it in any post game interview. But if Strasburg is angry it’s only because he has a right to be. And he’s not the only one. Jim Riggleman’s reputation as a manager with an early hook is well-earned. He’s got a shepard’s staff as big as Little Bo Peep (oops … well, let’s go with this version) — the result of his time as the manager of the North Side Drama Queens, when he oversaw the 1998 rookie campaign of strikeout king Kerry Wood.

The ghost of Kerry Wood seems ever-present with Riggleman, who coached the Slugs when they were going somewhere and the young Wood was the talk of baseball. The problem was that Wood had a raw elbow, with his ligaments tearing and bleeding everytime he threw. And in 1998, after a stint in the minors when he rarely threw even close to 100 pitches, Wood was carrying the load for a contending team — and throwing 115 to 120 pitches per game. Eventually (after sitting out the ’99 season with surgery, and pitching just so-so over the next three years), the elbow blew itself out for good and Wood, with successive stints in rehab, became a reliever. It was a loss, for Kerry Wood might have been, perhaps could have been (and maybe even should have been), one of the best starters in the game.

Riggleman, Wood’s skipper, blames himself. “If I had it to do over, I would do it differently,” he told the Washington Post back in March. “And we probably wouldn’t have gotten to the playoffs. If I had known what was going to happen, I wouldn’t have pitched him that much, period. But I would have caught a lot of grief. I caught a lot of grief as it was. We lost a lot of games where [Wood] came out after five or six innings. I was getting comments like, ‘C’mon, Riggs, leave him in.'” Wood disagrees: the ripping in his elbow had been happening for several years (he says) and it was bound to explode at some point. It was inevitable. “My elbow was going to go,” Wood told the Post. “If it didn’t go with [Riggleman] it would’ve gone with someone else. It was the way I was throwing, the stuff I had, the torque I was generating. It was a matter of time.”

Which is only to say that there’s a good reason why Jim Riggleman is as careful with Stephen Strasburg as he is. But Riggleman’s decision today — to sit Strasburg after the 5th — struck many fans as overly careful. After all, pitchers strain their arm, or throw out their shoulder, all the time. And not simply because they throw a lot of baseballs, or have a predisposition, or because they’re not on a pitch count. Pitchers blow out their arms because they’re pitchers. Wood understood this: in the end it didn’t matter how many pitches he threw, his “elbow was going to go” anyway. “It was a matter of time.” This is not an argument for having Rizzo, Riggleman & Company allow Strasburg to throw 110 to 120 pitches each and every game. It’s an argument for perspective and practicality — Stephen Strasburg is a pitcher, not a piece of fine China.

Perhaps more importantly, it’s a recognition that Washington Nationals fans aren’t going to show up at the park on Half Street to watch “the kid” throw 70 pitches over five innings — especially when it’s clear that (as happened on Sunday), he’s just starting to hit his stride.

Marquis Returns With Shaky Outing

Monday, August 9th, 2010

This is what we can probably expect then — that the Nationals will flirt (on-and-off) with being good, but then will slip a bit (it will be tantalizing) before climbing precariously back. After the nearly on-a-respirator Los Angeles Dodgers’ took two of three from the Nats in L.A., there should be little doubt that August and September (but, of course, not October — at least not this year), will be spent reviving old arms (Jason Marquis), trying out new ones (Jordan Zimmermann) and nursing steady progress among those arms that will stay into next year (Stephen Strasburg). It could be a long and painful progress, as the Nats showed on Sunday when they dropped an 8-3 decision to the Trolleys (the game was not as close as the scores indicates). Jason Marquis was anxious for a solid outing, but a recovery from elbow surgery takes time, though Marquis attributed the rocky outing to his own failures: :”I put myself in trouble with the walks,” he said. “There was one play where I didn’t pick up the ball. There was an out I gave away there. I have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The Nationals return home, where they will face the Florida Marlins beginning on Tuesday. Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Patrick Reddington over at Federal Baseball has a good summary of the career of Andre Dawson, who will be honored at Nationals Park on Tuesday. Reddington surveys the views on whether and how the Nationals should acknowledge their Montreal roots, the subject of much commentary in both the blogosphere and among Nats fans. We have nothing substantive or creative to add to Reddington’s comments, or those of Phil Wood and Ben Goessling, but would add this observation. If the Nationals are so anxious that the team’s fans acknowledge their Montreal roots, then they can stop producing apparel that dates the franchise (in chronological order) “Established 1905” or “Established 2005” — hell, why not 1886, when the “Washington Statesmen” were founded? If we want to acknowledge our actual franchise roots, there should be a sweatshirt that reads “Established 1969,” the year the Expos came into the league. Keeping it “Established 2005” is just fine with me, and I would just bet that that is the preference of Washington fans.

Which is not to say that Andre Dawson does not deserve our applause. He does. He was an amazing hitter and young speedster (until Astroturf tore up his knees) and had an outfield arm that was second only to Clemente. I did not see him play in Montreal, but only in Chicago — where I recall him as one of the truly great clutch hitters in the game. Dawson was the one player the North Siders had before Sandburg and Grace made them a near powerhouse. I find it hard to believe that it took Dawson eleven years to make it into the Hall of Fame. He was the N.L. MVP in 1987, when the Cubs finished last. Dawson hit 49 home runs that year and knocked in 137 RBIs. None of his teammates were even close. And this in an era before steroids became prominent. He never touched them. Coulda, woulda, shoulda . . . but still: if Dawson had not had cartilage that sounded like grinding metal those last five years, he would have had 3000 hits.

Snakes: Bitten

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

On Monday night in Phoenix, Livan Hernandez showed once again why he remains the acknowledged ace of the Washington Nationals staff. In  7.1 innings of solid in-and-out and up-and-down pitching, Hernandez surrendered just five hits to his former teammates in Arizona and the Nationals notched a much-needed road win 3-1. “[Hernandez] was outstanding,” Nats skipper Jim Riggleman said after the win. “I hated that last walk he had, because I was going to let him finish that inning and maybe finish the ballgame. When he’s throwing like that, hitting spots and keeping hitters off balance, it is one of those nights where he can go nine [innings].” Livan’s performance was matched by Nats’ catcher Ivan Rodriguez, whose second inning dinger was his 300th as a catcher. Sean Burnett closed the game, striking out two of the D-Backs last five hitters.

The Wisdom of Section 1-2-9: Sunday’s loss to the Phillies, a contest in which the Nats might have notched a sweep against their I-95 competitors, was emotionally churning, in large part because of the flood of Phillies fans — in town to cheer on their favorites. The tide of Pony partisans left Nats’ fans as embittered on Sunday as they had been at the end of Opening Day. “These people ought to stay the f — home,” a Curly W supporter muttered in the 6th inning. “This is sickening, not necessary,” another said. “Are we required to sell these people tickets?” But unlike Opening Day, the Nats apparently had it all figured out: MASN broadcaster Bob Carpenter kept talking about the “growing rivalry” between the clubs, as if to protect that Nats front office from the decision to fill the seats — no matter what.”It’ll be a rivalry when we put 20,000 fans in PNC Park,” a Nats fan growled, “and not until.” Cooler heads did not prevail: “It’ll turn around,” a Nats fan opined, and was answered by a glum rooter in one of the forward rows. “Yeah, it’ll turn around,” he said, “when the Nats get into the post-season.” There were also mutterings when a fan arrived late, proudly sporting a new Donovan McNabb jersey: “Wrong jersey, wrong ballpark, wrong team, wrong sport . . .”

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: The exchange on the health of “the kid” between CFG and one of our readers has become a torrent. Here’s the latest: “Dear editor: Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful response. Since that give-and-take worked so well, one further suggestion if I might: as the days pass with Saint Stephen on the sideline (now hopefully on the mend), could CFG please regularly update his physical and mental condition as warranted — including any medical info/predictions and gossip picked up from the various sources/websites perused constantly by CFG’s staff.  Many of your readers don’t always have the time to collect this valuable information — and rely on you to provide it. Please don’t lose track of the essential truth of this situation:  the fate of his sore arm is the big story of this franchise . . . Sincerely, An appreciative reader . . .”

Well, well, well. This is right in our wheelhouse. And yet the head of our research staff (here he is, with a group of CFG interns) is feeling the pressure. “Yes, big boss, I jumps in it,” he said. “I leave no stone on ground.” Several hours later we had our answer: “I think Mister Stephen in Arizona, mmmmm … chance maybe not so good,” he said. “Maybe boy in L.A. pitch good. Maybe, maybe not. I dunno.” And then he puckered his lips and kissed his miniature giraffe . . .

The pride of the N.L. Central, the Phillies of the Midwest, the North Side Drama Queens are “sinking like a stone,” have “bought the baseball farm,” have “reached the bottom of the barrel.” There is no cliche perfect enough to describe the extinction level event that has become your Chicago Cubs. Think it can’t get worse? It can, because it has. The Wrigley’s have now lost six in a row, and it hasn’t been pretty. The North Siders dropped what might have passed for a softball exhibition game to the Brew Crew last night by a score of 18-1. Repeat after me: 18-1. You can expect some of those kinds of games (where nothing in the world goes right), but the Cubs play them regularly, with aplomb and with no apparent loss of sleep. Over the last six games, the Cubs have been outscored 63-17.

The cataclysm has Cubs’ fans in an uproar. And the promised makeover might be years, not months, away — the Baby Bears are stuck with huge contracts to a number of perennial head cases (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano) and, as of July 31, were only able to rid themselves of their two best players. Way to go Jim, nice job. When in doubt, get rid of those keeping you afloat. This just in: after thinking about it for less than a milisecond, Ryan Theriot told a reporter (stop the presses) that he likes being in L.A. Really? No kidding. Worse yet: this team went nova entirely on its own; this has nothing to do with fan interference in foul ground. It’s their own damn fault, as even the most diehard Wrigleyville partisans will now admit. It’s a sad and sorry story, but (like a car wreck) you can’t avert your eyes. In a strange (and sick) kind of way, it’s almost fun to watch. Unless you’re Lou.

Swept

Friday, June 18th, 2010

The Washington Nationals finished an American League road trip in Detroit with a loss (an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of Kaline pitcher Jeremy Bonderman), failing to win all but one game in two three-game series against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. The loss brought the Nats to 1-5 on the swing west but (more importantly) continued the skid of a team that was once five games over .500. The team is now officially in a tailspin, leaving puzzled Nats fans to wonder whether their Anacostia Nine are reverting to their bad habits of 2009. The final loss in Detroit pointed up the Nats’ problems: too many strike outs, poor pitching and lousy defense. “We’re not playing tight baseball right now defensively,” Nats manager Jim Riggleman admitted in the wake of the last Detroit loss. “We need to pay more attention to details.”

In many respects, the Nats 8-3 loss was typical of their recent woes. While the team put runners on base (eight hits, including an Adam Dunn dinger), they weren’t able to push across runs in tight situations — leaving 15 men stranded. Then too, while Detroit pitcher Jeremy Bonderman is a good hurler, he’s hardly a wizard. Yet, the righty regularly retired Nats hitters in situations that might have led to runs — pitching well when he had to. Bonderman mastered Nats’ hitters with a down-and-in slider that stymied the Nats line up, throwing 95 pitches over seven complete: 65 of them for strikes. Washington starter Luis Atilano was not nearly so good, giving up nine hits in just 4.1 innings — his second poor outing. For Nats’ obsessives, the game was unwatchable after the fourth. The only good news is that Adam Dunn continues his torrid pace, lofting his 16th round-tripper in the seventh, slotting two more RBIs and raising his average to .288 on the year.

Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: CFG’s speculations about trading for a second pitcher occasioned more than a few comments from readers. A writer from Seattle was horrified that we believe that fireball southpaw Cliff Lee “could be had for a song.” That’s not what we said. Lee can’t be had for a song, but a longer melody might do. We’ll stick by our stand: the Navigators are looking for prospects and are sellers. Lee is looking for a long term deal and would be more comfortable in the National League. The Seattle fan begs to differ: “We’ll part with Lee,” he writes, “but we’ll need Ryan Zimmerman in return.” Yeah sure. Keep dreaming.

Others wrote more creatively, noting that the Lee-Oswalt-Peavy speculations that we launched “aimed too high” (as one responder noted), saying that it seemed more likely that Washington would fish for pitchers “more reachable.” A  reader, from Atlanta, was adamant: “Houston, Seattle, Chicago — they’ll all want one of your big hitters, and Rizzo won’t give any of them up.” Well, maybe. Our regular reader from Brazil (no kidding) mentioned Chicago hurler Ted Lilly (Ken Rosenthal thinks he might be available), Frisco fireballer Jonathan Sanchez and Showboat righty Dan Haren as likely targets. We’ve been mulling these possibilities and they all sound good. But Lilly is a finesse pitcher who will soon be looking for a big payday and we can’t imagine that San Francisco would part with Sanchez (a little different than last year at this time).

There’s always Cleveland’s Jake Westbrook, who has struggled this year (except against the Nats) and is rumored to be on the block. Westbrook is an intriguing possibility, particularly now that he looked so terrible against the Mets. The Cleveland front office is running out of patience with its pitching staff, and Westbrook is playing for a guy who knows the Nats system — and particularly its younger pitchers and developing hitters. Then too, Cleveland needs to retool: getting younger hurlers to go with Masterson and Huff. Mike Rizzo wouldn’t want to do that. But for Westbrook? Westbrook is not Lilly, or Sanchez (let alone Haren), but he’s affordable and would provide a veteran presence behind Strasburg. He’s had his Tommy John surgery, has a wicked cut fastball (well . . . it’s wicked often enough to spark interest among shoppers), is in the last year of his contract and has worn out his welcome in Cleveland.

Haren is different. The D-Backs are rumored to be at the beginning of a sell-off, which has their dugout talking, though they probably don’t need a top-to-bottom rebuilding. Haren himself has said that the team has a stockpile of talent — though SI’s Jon Heyman speculates that Arizona’s front office will listen to offers on the impressive righty. Heyman’s article on the D-Backs is thorough and authoritative, which can mean only one thing: the Rattlers are open for business. The only players who are off the table (Heyman says) are outfield bopper Justin Upton and young ace-to-be Ian Kennedy. So Heyman is right — Arizona shopaholic Josh Byrnes (he just shipped Conor Jackson to Oakland) will “listen,” but will the Nats make an offer? Haren hasn’t been his perennial lights-out ace this year, but he’s been one of the most consistent performers in the NL over the last three years. So he won’t come cheap. Which is too bad, because it probably means he won’t come at all. So we’ll look in the mirror and tell ourselves what we told our Seattle reader: Keep dreaming.