The Nats must have one of the toughest early schedules in the major leagues: Phillies, Mets, Phillies (that’s six games against the Phillies in the first month), then the Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs. With the exception of the Mets — and a single end-of-month game against the Marlins — the Nats will face-off against a top team every single day until May. Of course (as some fans will note), when you finish with 103 losses, every team looks tough. Even so. There’s two ways to look at this: Nats fans can say it’s “not fair” (a phrase popularized by four-year-olds), or we can look at these games as tests of just how good the Nats are against the league’s best. In the case of the Phillies, at least, the results seem clear. It’s not simply that the Nats are not as good as the Phillies (that’s obvious), to complete with them the Nats will need more pitching — and lots of it.
The Nats fell to the Ponies in Philadelphia yesterday and played them even, until “the killer P’s” unloosed their hitters. For Jason Marquis, who must have come up short when the staff drew straws before heading north, the second outing against the Phillies was only marginally better than his first. Frankly, it’s doubtful that Livan, who dominated the Mets on Sunday, could have done much better. The line-up of Polanco, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez constitutes a latter-day murders’ row of lumber that would be daunting for an elite team — let alone the Nats. Even so, as a guy like Jim Riggleman will tell you, a competitive squad should be expected to play the Phillies tough. But so far that hasn’t happened. The lesson seems to be that once you have your boot on their neck, you don’t dare give in. “They are a balanced lineup,” Nats reliever Walker said. “They have some free swingers and have guys that will grind it out. The balance is what gets you, because they are going to be consistent every day. You give them an inch, they are going to take a mile. You give them an extra out, that’s when they really gear up. They know they can break your back.”
Andy MacPhail’s renovation project in Baltimore is making progress, though the pieces he’s added over the winter (signing Garrett Atkins was a great idea) aren’t likely to make a difference for the Orioles in the standings. At least not this year. It doesn’t help that steady-as-she-goes second sacker Brian Roberts pulled an abdominal muscle last night — and will be out for the next fifteen days. But the Orioles are coming back, if slowly, in part because MacPhail has cobbled together one of the best outfields in baseball: Adam Jones might be the best centerfielder in the game, Nolan Reimold is a surprise addition in left and Nick Markakis is becoming an established star. Even Felix Pie (above), the Cubs cast-off (you could say the same about MacPhail, come to think of it), is starting to hit, though his dinger last night against the Tampa Bay Whatevers didn’t keep the Orioles from losing — or falling to1-6 on the season.
“Overall, our pitching is doing a great job,” Markakis said after last night’s tilt. Really? You could have fooled me.The starting four of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are just so-so, and closer Michael Gonzalez (brought in from the Braves as the real deal) looks terrified on the mound. The Orioles’ front office is hoping that semi-rookie Brian Matusz is the answer to the Orioles’ annual pitching woes, but he’s inexperienced. Matusz was an elite college pitcher (at the University of San Diego) with good velocity, and his trip through the minors was impressive. Signed by the Orioles in the same year that Washington failed to land Aaron Crow, Matusz is Baltimore’sÂ hope for the future, even if the future has yet to arrive. If there’s any good news at all, it’s not only that Matusz is unlikely to fail, but that rotation-mate Brad Bergesen has been a surprise. Drafted in the fourth round in 2004, Bergesen was 7-5 last year with a stellar 3.43 ERA. That’s two solid pitchers for the future. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future will come only after Baltimore gets past a season with the savvy, but aging Millwood, and a bound-to-be-average Jeremy Guthrie.
None of this is cause to despair. While the future might take several years to arrive, Markakis, Jones, Reimold and Pie are fun to watch. If only they could pitch.