Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Well, That Was Fun

When the highlight of the game you're at is the ceremonial first pitch, it's a pretty good indication that you're at a bad game. I just hope it doesn't mean a bad season, too.

If you missed it, Dick Cheney stormed on to the field to a loud chorus of boos. While others around me were mostly booing (except for those standing and applauding politely), I was giggling like the child I sometimes am. I wondered what could possibly be going through Cheney's mind at that moment. Was he enjoying his role as designated villain, like a pro wrestler would? Was he thinking to himself "Goddamn George screwed me again. Why do I have to do this crap? I'm a millionaire. I don't need this"? How did he feel when his pitch blooped to the plate? Embarrassed? Relieved that it was almost over?

Can you tell I hated the game?

Ramon Ortiz had the kind of game that looked much better through the boxscores. He had nothing NOTHING on his pitches. It was reminiscent of the wost of Tony Armas from last season. Discounting the final inning when he knew he would come out for a hitter in the bottom of the inning, Ortiz got to two strikes on eleven batters, and had as many strikeouts as I did. Excluding the pitcher, batters swung and missed at ONE of his pitches. Everything else was fouled off or put in play.

He, like Armas last year, has stuff that's just not good enough to consistently get major league hitters out, especially when it's a lineup that's as solid as the Mets' is.

The boxscore only tells part of the story. Not only did he not miss any bats, when they did put the ball in play, they hit it hard, even when it was hit to a Nat. Consider the first inning: scorcher to second base, picked by Jose Vidro on a tough hop; hard liner past Clayton into rightfield; line-drive double-play by Beltran. Looks like a good one, two, three inning in the boxscore, but watching that, you just knew it was a matter of time. And the second time through the order was time enough.

On the flip side, I'd also say that Mets starter Brian Bannister's appearance wasn't as good as it was. He, too, pitched out of trouble. But, unlike his counterpart in white, Bannister wasn't allowing many hard-hit balls. His problem was his inability to really nail down the strike zone.

The Nationals had five straight 3-0 counts where they ended up making an out before he grooved a pitch to Soriano with a 5-0 lead. Five 3-0 counts and they don't reach base!? Taking it further, the 12 Nats who started out an AB with a ball were retired until Soriano's blast.

Is Bannister's stuff good enough that he's able to prevent the Nats from making good contact? Or were the Nats bailing him out? He looked like he was changing speeds a lot, mixing in a fastball with a changeup and an infrequent curve. Either/or, the result was a lot of offensive ineptitude. I HATE when my scorecard is clean. I like jagged lines, asterisks, and dots. With all the 43s and 7s on my card, the Nats side looks like a math test.

Ramon Ortiz wins the Lame Duck for his outing. He wasn't horrible, but he really wasn't all that good. He has just five strikeouts on the season in 19 innings pitched. Unless you're an extreme groundballer, or if you don't allow homers or walk anyone, it's awfully difficult to succeed as a major league pitcher if you don't miss the occasional bat. Still, he gave the team six innings, which, at this point in time, is a moral victory.

  • Alfonso Soriano is a fun player to watch. His long homer off the mezanine in left field looked like it was ticketed for the upper deck. I still think that Soriano's going to be ok in this park. He hits the ball far enough, and he's enough of a pull hitter that it probably won't be the hinderance it is for spray hitters like Guillen. (Sick of me saying that yet?)

    In the field, he made a number of routine plays, and two not-so routine plays.

    In the fifth inning, Paul LoDuca hit a liner into the left-center gap. Soriano made a long run, and tried for a diving grab. He didn't get there, and Brandon Watson was right there to pick up the ball. Off the bat, I was sure it was a double, and I was actually impressed with Soriano's sprint to the ball. He came a long way to get it. He does, however, need to be careful with the dives. He was lucky in this case that Watson was there to back up. Had he not been, that ball goes a loooooong way into the gap.

    In the seventh inning, he did screw up. Jose Reyes hit a liner towards left, but closer to the alley. When it landed, it rolled hard towards the wall, and Soriano took a poor angle to the ball (ala JJ Davis) and the ball got past him. Had he picked it up, Reyes is probably on first, perhaps on second. It didn't end up costing the Nats a run though.

  • While on the subject of defense.... Jose Guillen had his first crack at nailing a runner when Jose Reyes hit a single to right with Hernandez on deck. Jose's throw was a good 15-20 feet wide of the plate, and had no chance of nailing the runner. Jose was good about keeping the throw low towards the cutoff man, preventing Reyes from taking the extra base.

  • Brandon Watson looked pretty good in center. For the most part, his chances were routine. Early in the game, he did have a tricky chance. Xavier Nady (I think) hit a liner to the right of center. Watson had him shaded slightly the other way and ran a long way to get it. From where I was sitting right behind the plate, it was very easy to see how much spin the ball had, peeling it further and further away from Watson. It hung up long enough for him to catch it. It may have looked routine, but it was an excellent play.

  • Jose Vidro had the first fake homer of the season, ripping a drive deep into the gap in right, which was caught on the track. It's kind of funny to think that if he had hit that same ball yesterday, it's quite literally 20 rows into the stands.

  • There's a lot to be frustrated about, to be sure. But keep a few things in mind:
    1) The offense looks like it's improved. They're hitting with more power, and it seems like they're, as a unit, working deeper into counts, and not necessarily swinging at the first semi-hittable pitch. Everyone's drooling all over themselves about the Yankees offense, but they've already had a few dog games. Things happen, and it's best not to read too much into one stinktastic performance.

    2) The schedule has been brutal. Not only have the Nats played on the road, they've played tough teams. We basically played the Astros to a draw, even if the results didn't turn out that way. And the Mets are beating us. Well, duh! The Mets are the best team in the division. That's going to happen. This month, the Nats play THREE games against teams with losing records from last season, Cincinnati -- and they're 5-2!

    3) Some of the pitching has been brutal, but there are some bright spots. Majewski's looked good. Felix Rodriguez has looked good at times, but he pitched today like his arm was dead -- and considering how many games he's pitched in, that's probably true! Tony Armas looked better. Drese looks like he could stabilize the fifth spot. There are options in the minors, too.

    I'm not trying to be all sunshine and roses, but it's easy to be down after today. And there's probably some justification for it.

    But as we learned last year, you're never as good as you look when you're on a winning streak (July 3 anyone?) and you're never as bad as you look when you're losing. The truth, I believe, is somewhere in between.

    Jesus, I write a lot sometimes!

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