Sunday, July 31, 2005

Alleluia! We Can Flip The Calendar

At the beginning of last month, I was worried about July; it featured a rough schedule with the majority of games (16/27) on the road, with nine of those against the villains of the division.

The month started off great, with a brooming of the Cubs in Chicago. At that point, the Nationals had a 5.5 game lead in the division.

But then the Fourth of July rolled around, and the team imploded. Since that day, they've won just six times while losing 72. Alright, so it's only 18 losses, but, really, who's counting.

Worse, the team now stands five full games behind the Atlanta Braves and just one bad series out of last place. They've even lost their hold in the Wild Card, and now trail the Houston Astros by one, having lost eight games in the standings to them just over the last ten games.

But what's been surprising about the slide is that the pitching has been amazing. What's been holding them back is a completely inept and offensive offense.

Since July 4 (and not counting today's game), the Nationals starting pitchers had a 3.24 ERA, yet were only 5-8 with ten no decisions. Of the 23 starts in that stretch, an amazing 12 starts were made with the starter giving up two or fewer runs, and just three outings where the starter gave up five runs (One by Livan. Two by Drese)

How has the offense stunk? Let's count the ways. (All numbers from 7/4 through Saturday's game)
Brad Wilkerson:  .226/ .301/ .301
Jose Vidro: .233/ .298/ .384
Jose Guillen: .274/ .330/ .405
Vinny Castilla: .194/ .280/ .269
Brian Schneider: .300/ .338/ .357
Jamey Carroll: .250/ .362/ .271
Preston Wilson: .226/ .349/ .377
Cristian Guzman: .050/ .116/ .100
Ryan Church: .238/ .298/ .281

Before Sunday's inexplicable on-base flurry, Guzman had reached base just five times (two hits, three walks).

When the month began, he was hitting .201/ .239/ .291. And somehow he got worse, down to .180/ .222/ .265. Yeesh.

For the month, which includes the Cubs series, the team hit .226/ .292/ .324 for a .616 OPS. For comparison's sake, Jack Wilson, the Pirates impotent shortstop, has a .613 OPS for the season. That ain't good!

When no one on your team hits, you have a hard time scoring runs. For the month, the Nationals scored three or more runs in an inning just four times (Two of those coming in the same game against Philly). Despite the great pitching they got, their opponents did it eight times.

Alright, so they stunk.

Well, what's next? It's really not possible for the hitting to continue to be this bad. Every single one of the Nationals batters went into a slump. A few of them should come out of it. (please, oh please!)

The trick for how well they do in August will be whether the pitching can continue its dominant ways. One of the advantages of all the losses is that Luis Ayala and Chad Cordero didn't have the workload they had in June. They were able to get a little bit of rest (comparatively!).

If the pitching can avoid a nose dive, there's no reason this team can't get back to its winning ways.

The schedule isn't particularly easy either. They start out with a six-game homestand against the Dodgers and Padres who, before going on a brutal 13-game road trip in the middle of the month. Ten of the 13 are against Houston, Philadelphia, and the Mets, three of the teams were wrestling with for that last playoff spot.

That's where the season will be salvaged, if there's still a little magic in those bats.

If they can survive that test, they majority of September's games are at home. And if we're still scrapping for the playoffs, we'll need every advantage we can get.

There's still a glimmer of hope. The team has spent the last three weeks crapping the bed.

The analytical part of my brain tells me they're dead, and that they have no real chance of staying in the rest.

But the emotional part tells my analytical side that it didn't think they'd be 5.5 games up in the first place.

This season is showing us that anything is possible.


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