Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rock Bottomer

The Nationals are starting to remind me of Wile E. Coyote, or some other cartoon character. One of the oldest gags is to make the character fall, then when you think he's hit bottom, to have the ground he's standing on give way, resulting in another fall. As a child, that cracked me up.

Now as an adult, and as the Nationals play the role of the Coyote, it makes me sad. And it makes me angry.

With another stinking offensive performance, which wasted another sterling pitching performance, the Nationals lost 3-2 in extra innings.

Anyone who has read the GameDay chats knows that I loathe the intentional walk. And as it usually does, it came back to bite the team in their non-hitting buttocks. (As any Met fan can tell you -- giving up an IBB and then facing Andruw Jones with the bases loaded probably gave them flashbacks)

With one out and a runner in scoring position, Frank Robinson had Mike Stanton IBB the switch-hitting Rafael Furcal. Kelly Johnson popped up, and there were two outs.

Robinson brought in Luis Ayala to face Marcus Giles, whom he promptly beaned in the jersey, not coming within four inches of skin.

With the bases loaded, and a shaky Ayala on the mound facing Andruw Jones, the result was predictable: four straight balls. On the second pitch, Ayala inexplicably threw sidearm. I can't remember him doing that at all, and I have no idea why he decided to do that in that situation.

Ball four was a tailing fastball that ran from right to left but still missed the outside corner. Brian Schneider tried pulling it inside, but the umpire wasn't fooled. The game was over.

  • It's easy to get frustrated over the bullpen. They had the lead, and coughed up single runs in the 9th and 10th. Chad Cordero, at least, only needed 3 pitches to blow the save: double, single, Sac Fly.

    But it was the offense that screwed the game again.

    The Nationals ripped out 8 hits (all singles) and two walks off John Smoltz, who wasn't quite himself last night. Yet, they only scored two runs. Even worse, one of those runs came about solely because Livan Hernandez took it upon himself to single and score, emulating the Esteban Loaiza model that worked earlier this year.

    Repeatedly they get runners on. And repeatedly they fail to drive them in.

    The Lame Duck goes to our favorite whipping boy, Cristian Guzman. He took another ofer, and inexplicably received 4 at bats in the game.

    Less than a week ago, Frank decided he was going to sit Guzman for a while because of the team's struggles. Apparently he defines 'a while' as two and a half games.

    I get the feeling that Guzman was out there, in one of the biggest games of the year, as much so that Frank could point to the team finally having it's home opening lineup out there for the first time since God knows when.

    (Here comes the cynical anti-Frank rant) It's a no lose situation for Frank, who's not above throwing his players under the bus. If they win, he can take some of the credit. If they lose, he can throw his hands up, point to that being the starting lineup and blame the players for not executing. (/cynical anti-Frank rant)

    Not only did Guzman stink offensively, there were at least two groundballs he needed to make plays on. They would have been tough plays, but if he really is a Pokey Reese-type that catches everything hit to him to offset his inability to hit a ball through a wet paper bag, then he needed to make those plays.

    Guzman continues to play. The Nats continue to lose. He's not the sole reason, but he's a huge part of it.

    And Frank refuses to do anything.

  • Livan pitched great. He threw his typical assortment of varied-speed junk, and had the Braves off-balance the entire game, save for the seventh inning. He looked much better than he had in his previous 4 outings, and his body language looked a lot better. One of the key things to look for in how he's feeling is how quickly he pitches. If he's slow, it seems like he doesn't have his best stuff. Last night, he hopped back up on the mound and fired another strike as quickly as his big body would let him.

  • Jose Vidro hit into two double plays. One was a hard liner right to the first baseman that doubled off Brad Wilkerson -- a tough luck play. The other was a shot up the middle deflected by Smoltz, resulting in a 1-4-6-3 DP.

  • Not only did Preston Wilson not start, which is strange (but endorsed by me!), because he was the team's 'big bat' acquisition, he didn't even pinch hit. Frank brought Baerga off the bench first, and didn't hit for Guzman when he had a chance.

  • It's important that the Nationals take at least one of these next two. It was unreasonable to expect them to win the series, but being swept would truly be a killer. They're back out there tonight, and I'll say what I've said each night for most of the last month, "Things can't get much worse, can they?" long as the ground doesn't drop from beneath us.


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