Saturday, July 16, 2005

BALK: The Sound A Chicken Makes

On the list of ways to lose a game, the walk-off balk has to be near the top of the list of ignominy.

Suprisingly, they're not as rare as you'd think.

I have ZERO problem with the umpire making the call in that situation. If the pitcher balks, especially when it creates a pickoff, as it did in last night's game, then it's a call that needs to be made every time.

But last night's call was sketchy, at best.

The umpire ruled that Mike Stanton, in making his pickoff throw, stepped towards home plate before firing to first. To throw to first, you need to step to first.

I've watched the replay on MLB.TV more than Jim Garrison watched the Zapruder film, and it appears like a weak call. (The video is available, for free, here. Just look for 7/15)

If you could draw a 45 degree line on a plane between the pitcher's rubber and home plate, Stanton's foot would land on it.

Is that stepping towards home? Stepping towards first? Neither?

The umpire thought he saw a clear violation; the Nationals have to live with it.

  • The problem with the balk call is that the anger over that is going to overshadow the same style of crappy Nationals baseball we've seen over the last fortnight: Zero offense, an inability to hold late leads, an ineffective Luis Ayala, and a run of wretched luck.

    This team is finally playing to the level of its stats. There's a lot of luck that comes with winning one-run games.

    As I've said before, most of them require just ONE big hit at EXACTLY the right time. We were getting them before, which isn't a skill, it's mostly luck. Now we're not.

    Combine that with a bullpen that really can't hold anyone anymore, and those 3-2 wins are now 4-3 losses.

  • Jose Guillen wraps up his second straight Lame Duck with a dreadful 0-5 performance. For the last few weeks, he's been in a mode where he's trying to hit a homer on everything. All it's doing is producing groundouts.

    To compound the problem, when he is grounding out, he's not running hard. Usually that's not a problem, but in today's game, it may have made a difference.

    With runners on the corners and one out, he hit a medium ground ball to shortstop, who flung the ball to second. The throw from the second baseman beat Guillen by 45 feet. He didn't run! He half-jogged most of the way down the line. In all probability he would've been out, but he's a fast guy; he could've made it a close play.

    That's exactly why Jose will never be a leader, just a selfish brat. He talks a good game when they're winning, but the second things start heading south, he sulks.

    Contrast him with Jose Vidro, who steps ups, plays hard, and does it without mugging for the camera or speaking in cliches to the media that make the writers get all fuzzy inside.

    Given his act recently (the fight with Loaiza/Schneider, and the whining about Church), he needs to step it up on the field and produce. As much as his deluded ego may think, he's not a leader off the field. And lately, he can't even point to being a leader on the field.

  • Livan was Livan. Frank's afraid of the guy and would never take him out, but it seemed pretty clear that he was near the end of the tank last night when he gave up the tieing homer to Carlos Lee. It seemed like Livan's curve didn't have as much bite last night as it usually does. But when your starting pitcher goes 8 innings and gives up just three runs, you NEED to win that game.

  • Jose Vidro continued his machine like hitting. He's had three hits in two of the last three games. (strangely, both losses!)

    He looked a little shaky in the field, but made the plays.

    There was one ball hit, late in the game, to the hole between first and second. It's a play 90% of second basemen make in their sleep. Vidro got to it, snowconed the ball, waited to get his feet under him, as he was running behind first base, and made the out. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.

    Ron Darling complimented Vidro on his tremendous range on that play. Huh?

    And that's precisely one of the problems with evaluating defense on how the play looks. It was a tremendous play for Vidro. But most 2B make that play in their sleep. It's precisely because Jose Vidro has NO range that it looked good. (Many of the outfield Web Gems on ESPN are the same sorts of plays -- the outfielders take a bad jump, or are poor defenders, and make amazing-looking plays to make up for their shortcomings)

  • Preston Wilson's defense continued to unimpress. In the first inning, he played a single into a double when he failed to cut the ball off. I won't keep harping on it, but it's something that really needs watching. His misplay led directly to a run, with an assist from the former centerfielder, Brad Wilkerson, who booted an easy catch on a Guzman throw. Guzman was credited with the error, but Wilkerson NEEDS to make that catch. The error really should be on him.

  • WTF Frank Senior Moment
    You know it. I know it. Frank doesn't.

    Luis Ayala is TOAST. Frank seems intent on killing the guy.

    Despite Hector Carrasco throwing just 11 pitches in an effective bottom of the 9th, Frank brought out our own Human Torch. He simply doesn't have enough stuff on the ball anymore to get it by hitters. Even when he gets ahead 0-2, he can't get the guys out, as evidenced by Chris Magruder's (who?) hard line drive double.

    We're seriously getting to the point where he's going to blow out his arm and be unusable for a year or more.

    I don't know why Frank couldn't have left Carrasco out there for another inning? I do know that as soon as Ayala came in, I knew the game was over. I suspect many of you thought the same thing.

  • This team needs to get its act together quickly. There are lots of divisional games on the horizon, and our wild card lead is dwindling. One series sweep against one of those guys, and we're in a dogfight. We've got a big lead, but the way they've played the last two weeks, which is probably truer to form than the 12-1 homestand, and that lead will disappear quickly.