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.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

If It Quacks Like A Doc

Think of any cliche you'd like (sinking ship, train wreck, etc), and it'd fit. The Washington Nationals slipped into a coma on Jeff Francueour's bloop single on Thursday afternoon. And last night, Todd Jones' nasty cutter in on the hands of a swinging Brian Schneider created the steady high-frequency beep that indicates the patient is dead.

They're simply not making the playoffs. We were able to consoles ourselves with the losses earlier by talking about the comfortable lead they had built up, but the team has been hemorrhaging them for weeks now.

And the worst part is that there were a bunch of doctors standing around watching the life ooze out of the patient's body.

If this really was a matter of life and death, there'd be a mile-long line of ambulance chasers willing to take on another quick-buck malpractice case. Oh, if only there were something equivalent for season ticket holders!

When the new owner comes in, he needs to wipe out the staff. I've tried to be patient, but no more. Their general incompetence, stubborness, and inability to see flaws in their strategies have cost this team its chance.

Fire Jim Bowden.
He has passion. He has energy. But, he's not an especially effective or innovative GM. While the infield rotted away, with a immobile nearly-crippled third baseman, an injured darkhorse MVP first baseman out, and a shortstop who is quite literally the worst regular player in major league history, he patches holes by trading for more outfielders.

He has no clue of what the team's weaknesses are.

He talks about the need for more pitching, but, under his watch, the team has crapped away pitchers: Zach Day and Tomo Ohka were traded; Claudio Vargas given away for NOTHING; Jon Rauch was lost for the season, with no replacement coming in.

He's shown an inability to acknowledge the team's weaknesses, because those weaknesses were created by him, in one of his first acts as General Manager. Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman were his big signings -- bold steps of a confident, decisive man of action, a GM who gets results (or so he wants you to believe)

But the emperor shortstop has been bucknaked the entire season, from just about day one. And, unlike the fable, hundreds of people are yelling, pointing out that the guy's ass is showing. It's only Jim and Frank that aren't listening, jamming cotton in their ears and saying "Nyeah Nyeah Nyeah, I can't hear you."

With all his PR flash and sizzle and his pronouncements, it's as if he was a five-year old who wet his pants and exepected his mom to be pleased because he drew a pretty picture to make up for it.

A real leader admits mistakes and corrects them, instead of stumbling along pretending that everything is A-OK! Hey, it's JimBo's Happy Fun-Time Land, where everything is great! We're a World Series contender -- he told us so!

If only it really worked that way.

Fire Frank Robinson
I've been down this road a thousand times. He's an incompetent in-game strategist, calling for bunts indiscriminately, failing to make subsitutions appropriately, calling for strategies that don't match the qualities of the players on his team.

Off the field, he runs down his players, feuds with the pitchers (Livan, Armas, Day, Ohka for starters) and has them run out of town if he's not happy with them.

He has an unhealthy obsession with veterans and jerks players who haven't done it for him yet around (see Church, Harris, etc).

And most importantly, that senile @#$@# writes Cristian Guzman's name in the lineup every day. He's said he's sticking with him because he doesn't want to 'lose him'. Well, Frank, you've lost the flipping pennant because of your stubborness, and, I suspect, you're starting to lose the team. Even though most of them don't have two stable legs to stand on, they have to question why a complete offensive zero (hell, he's a negative number!) and a recent defensive flameout is being penciled in every day.

I wonder how Ryan Church, who's been jerked around day after day feels about that. I wonder how Brad Wilkerson, who has played every game while being injured without all the self promotion of the non-hustling Jose Guillen (who has never missed a chance to tell you how hurt and wonderful he is or to not run out a ball), feels about Guzman in the lineup nightly, sulking, and killing the team.

Fire Cristian Guzman
He's a sunk cost. I can understand the team wanting to get something out of him, but you have to pay him whether he's starting or released. Bench him, start Jamey Carroll (or whoever!) and see if he can rebound next season. But continuing him in the starting lineup is malpractice.

Fire Jose Guillen
It baffles me that the team picked up his option so early. It's really easy to see why so many other teams have soured on him. He desparately wants to be a team leader, and more importantly, have the accolades that come along with it. Yet, he doesn't put much of the effort into it.

Yes, it's admirable that he plays hurt, but sometimes, like when he scuffled for three weeks, it's better to take a day or two off.

But it's not admirable that he continues to not run balls out. Last night was the culmination -- he 'lost' a ball in the lights that was a double. Because he stood around looking lost, he only got to first. Thankfully, his teammates bailed him out, but he shouldn't put them in that position. One day, it's going to really cost them.

He just seems to let too many distractions get in the way. When he's focused, he's a great player. It's just a shame that he lets so many things get in the way of his focus.

Fire Vinny Castilla
The old guy is still giving a good effort with the glove, but his range is down since his knee flared up.

That same injury has taken him from below average offensively to pretty poor.

It's clear that he needs more time off, but the team seems unwilling to trust it's prospects, such as Brendan Harris.

Other than that magical June, this has been a team hovering near .500. It's clear that June raised the bar of our expectations too high. If anything, THAT was the fluke, not our current level of play.

While there's still an outside chance that this team could sneak in, it'd take another June-sized fluke.

They're not the 95-loss team of last year, and they're not the 100-win-pace team of this year. They're somewhere in the middle, a .500ish team.

That's still pretty damn good, but it doesn't make the recent slide any less painful.

But some changes for next year could push us further in the right direction.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Rock Bottomiest

Another Ryan Drese start, another loss. He's maddening to watch. When he's on and his arm angle is high, the batters are helpless to pound the ball into the ground. I don't know whether it's injury or laziness, but he can't keep his arm angle high for very long. As soon as it drops, he gets knocked around. And when he doesn't have control, like he didn't yesterday, it gets ugly early.

That being said, the team had a chance to win. And perhaps had the Lame Duck winner, Brad Wilkerson, done anything other than pop up anytime runners were on, the result would have been different.

It's hard to get excited about another in a growing list of losses, but there were signs of things hidden in the game that sort of resembled the way the team played in the first half.

I really don't like the idea of taking moral victories -- yet.

  • Nationals Inquirer prays to the baseball Gods, asking for relief.

  • Nationalz tries to keep a positive outlook.

  • Nasty Nats stays positive too, and sees hope for the future.

  • Nationals Interest notes the recent offensive troubles of some of the team's key hitters.

  • Looking to the future, Nationals Farm Authority looks at Bowden's plan for his prospects, and links to a John Sickels recap of his pre-season top-20 Nationals prospects.

  • Thursday, July 28, 2005

    SAT Time II

    Just because it's cathartic...

    Frank Robinson is to managing as _______ is to _______

    -- Dick Stuart is to fielding.

    -- Jay Witasick is to pitching in the World Series.

    -- Allan Travers is to emergency starts.

    -- Butch Hobson is to fielding percentage.

    -- The Cleveland Spiders were to competition.

    Did You Know That Guzman Stinks?

    Nats Blog writes the post that I'm too demoralized to write.

    How bad is Guzman? Historically bad. Nats Blog looks at the numbers and winces.

    GameDay: Rock Bottomier Edition

    Last night was a failure of the team's defense. And the guy who Bill Ladson tells us 'catches everything hit to the left side' caught nothing hit to the left side, misplaying at least two balls, and dropping what would've been the third out of the decisive eighth inning.

    For his 'efforts' he wins another Lame Duck, and is in danger of lapping the field with his putrid performances.'

    I'm so disgusted I don't even know what to say.

    The WTF Frank Senior Moment, and it's a mild one, was his decision to IBB Adam LaRoche to pitch to someone called Jeff Francouer who was already something like 8 for 10 in the game. One bloop later, and the game was essentially over. Gotta have that platoon advantage!

    The Nationals have to avoid a season-killing sweep with Ryan Drese on the mound this afternoon.

    If you're around, there'll be a meeting of the Wilson Bridge Jumpers club at 1:05, when the first pitch is thrown. So come and grouse along.

    Venting is healthy!

    Wednesday, July 27, 2005

    SAT Time

    I'm angry. You're angry. So vent and fill in the blanks...

    Cristian Guzman is to the Nationals as _____ is to ______.

    I'll start!

    -- The Unabomber is to the USPS
    -- Legionnaires' Disease is to airplane flights
    -- Lorena Bobbit is to spouses

    Bridge Jumping Club Meeting

    Come join me on the Wilson Bridge tomorrow morning for a meeting of the Nationals Bridge Jumping club.

    Sometimes I really hate this team.

    And I always hate Cristian Guzman, who was inexcusably bad with the bat and the glove today. Designate him for assignment, Jim. He is a SUNK COST.

    Peter Angelos 1; Scum-Sucking Monopoly 0

    Round one goes to the rat bastard.

    A judge has thrown out Comcast's lawsuit asserting a breach of contract with the Orioles, hypothetically clearing the way for MASN to appear on a cable system near you.

    It won't be so easy. 1) The judge gave Comcast 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. 2) The appeals process, oh there'll be appeals, will take months.

    Either way, don't bank on seeing Nats baseball on Comcast this season. (PLEASE prove me wrong!)

    But I think we already knew that.

    Fouled-Off Bunts: Sigh

  • The MASN Mess reaches the first milepost. There's a hearing today on the Orioles' motion to dismiss Comcast's lawsuit. It's possible that the judge will issue an immediate ruling, or that could come at a later time.

  • Apparently, the Nationals aren't recognized when they go out in public. I wonder why that could be? Perhaps that has something to do with the point above? Naaaaah.

  • Marlon Byrd's suspension was overturned. He'll have to pay a fine for being ejected, but won't have to miss a game. Somewhere in the southern hemisphere, a crank Aussie is screaming "Bollocks!"

    But the question remains... is Byrd being NOT suspended actually good for the team? Lately, he has started to make me miss Endy.

  • Baseball Prospectus reports that the Nationals had a deal in place to acquire infielder Julio Lugo, but that the Nationals were having a hard time working out the financial details.

    Gee, thanks, Bud.

  • Our friends at Sports Law Blog take a lawyerly gaze at RFK's outfield dimensions. Would the mislabling of the fences be grounds for a claim of misrepresentation?

    It's obviously mostly an academic exercise, but some of you ambulance chasers might appreciate it. (If I see you passing out business cards outside the player's parking lot, I'll expect a referal fee)

  • 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.

  • Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    Fouled-Off Bunts: The Calm Before The Storm

  • Nick Johnson makes his triumphant return to the Nationals lineup, after having most of the month off with a bruised heel.

    As NJ comes back, Jose Guillen goes out. He's still suffering from a bruised hand, where he was beaned on Sunday. He's day-to-day, but Robinson has said he could be out as long as a week.

    Does anyone really think he won't be back by tomorrow?

    Either Sunny Kim or Kenny Kelly are likely to be sent down. We're at 12 pitchers now, but with a few shaky starters, the extra arm might be more important.

  • Wil Cordero was officially waived, making him a free agent.

    Now he'll have more time at home to beat his wife.

  • The most interesting article of the day is Les Carpenter's extended look at Frank Robinson's delegation of managing duties to Ed Rodriguez.

    We learn that Ed makes the lineup out the majority of the time and that he's the one who has the L/R/L fetish, not Frank.

    It raises several questions though.

    What exactly is Frank's job? He's a wretched in-game decision maker (other than with the bullpen, for the most part), and he's definitely not a conflict resolver with his players. What are his strengths? And how do we know what they are -- other than our projections that he's done something vague like 'set a tone'?

    The other question it raises is why does Frank hate computers? When he first discussed this earlier in the season, which was quickly followed by the 'manages by his gut' storyline, I defended him. I said that his knowledge of game situations served as a sort of internal computer.

    My rationale was that he had seen everything, and that he'd know how to react. Well, I was wrong.

    And Frank's continued inability to use numbers is fine as long as he realizes that some of his in-game strategies hurt the team.

    But there's no indication that that's the case.

    All I can do is shrug at this point.

    At least I still have the 'WTF Frank Senior Moments' to vent my frustration!

  • The Washington Times looks at the shallow pool of catchers in the organization. In other words, pray that Brian Schneider stays healthy!

  • Monday, July 25, 2005

    Sour Mash

    With the team's recent struggles (struggles is probably too generous a word for what they're doing), some are grabbing pitchforks, making torches and rounding up the villagers for a good ol' fashioned riot. The object of scorn, in many of these criticisms, is the Kentucky Masher, Brad Wilkerson.

    He's been an easy target lately. He's hitting a pathetic .235/ .316/ .341 for the month, with just six extra-base hits. But what really gets everyone's goat is the strikeouts. He's up to 25 with 104 on the season.

    It's hard to defend his recent performance, but the majority of the criticism is misguided. One of Bill James' old saws is that struggling teams tend to focus on what players can't do, instead of what they do do.

    With thatin mind, what are Wilkerson's strengths and weaknesses?

    Hitting for power -- although he hasn't shown the home run stroke this season (just 6) he hit 32 last year after seasons of 19 and 20. Additionally, he cranks out doubles: 39 last year, and he's on pace for 49 this season.

    Getting on base -- He has a good eye for walks. He had a career high 106 last season, and is on pace to come close to that total this season. If the pitch is out of the zone, he'll take it.

    Defensive versatility -- Whether left field, center field, right field or first base, Wilkerson has proved to be a capable fielder wherever he's landed. He's been surprisingly good in center, showing off average range, and an accurate arm.

    Hitting for average -- No one will confuse him for Rod Carew. He's a career .259 hitter, who's hitting .261 this season.

    Contact hitting -- Wilkerson has an all-or-nothing swing that results in him waving at a lot of pitches. He seems especially susceptible to the high pitch.

    Baserunning -- While the 4-8 SB/CS ratio is mostly a product of Frank's misguided hit-and-runs, he's been amazingly unaware in certain situations, and has been picked off at least three times. It seems like he's shown average speed first to third and second to home, but the number of CS and pick-off outs in unacceptable.


    What especially grates his critics is his strikeouts. And I admit that they frustrate me too. But, some statheads have shown that strikeouts really aren't that much different than other outs.

    Striking out, they argue, eliminates the possibility of the double play (which is true in Wilk's case -- his career high is only 5). They also argue that players who walk a lot, like Wilkerson, are going to work deeper into counts than hackers like Guillen. They'll accordingly see more 2-strike counts and have more opportunities to strike out. Also, the nature of a power hitter's swing results in more Ks; if you swing for the fences, you're going to miss some pitches.

    Those all make sense intuitively, and also when you figure the numbers out with your abacus.

    Yet they're so damn aesthetically incorrect it isn't funny.

    In general, I disagree with their assessment because (and this mostly goes for those who tend to misuse tools they don't fully understand) people apply it as a blanket. They'll say that it's ok for Jamey Carroll to strike out; it's not. He's not the right kind of hitter.

    But with the type of player that Wilkerson is, I'll live with the strikeouts. When you look at the other things he does well -- walking, hitting for power -- they are things that, by their nature, create strikeouts.

    If you want his walks and you want his extra-base hits, you live with the strikeouts.

    That's not to say that it's not frustrating when he does, and it's not to say that he'd be a better player if he didn't strikeout as much.

    But that's not the kind of player he is. You have to take what you have, not what you want. If Wilkerson cuts down on his swing and alters it, it'd change the kind of player he is, and more than likely, weaken him.

    Just as you wouldn't ask Ichiro to turn into Mark McGwire, you shouldn't ask Wilkerson to turn into Joe Sewell (Check out his K numbers).


    One more consideration with Wilkerson. With the logjam of outfielders and the team's many needs, there's been fanboard speculation about Wilkerson being used as a trading chit.

    Wilkerson has two years left before free agency (I'm 98% sure on this), but he should be due a healthy raise each of the next two seasons. (I wish I had salary arbitration!)

    He's also represented by Scott Boras, who loves that process and rarely settles for less than a pound of flesh. Boras has also never heard of the Home Team Discount. And no matter how good a guy Wilkerson is, he's probably going to go wherever the most money is. And really, who could blame him?

    At any rate, to retain him, it's going to cost a decent amount of money. Is he worth it in the future?

    I'm going out on a limb here and saying no.

    Bill James also wrote about old player's skills. (Whenever I hear that term, I think of Eddie Murray, for some reason.) Towards the end of their career, many players lose points off their batting average, they hit for increased power, and they walk more.

    James brought that idea forth, because he believes that those types of players don't age well. Since they're already doing things players frequently do at the end of their career, they, in effect, have no place to slide.

    Athletic isn't really a word I'd use with Wilkerson. While he shows athleticism through his versatility, his body type and batting stroke make it look like he's getting by on effort and natural talent, not pure athleticism. (As a Yankee fan, Bernie Williams struck me the same way)

    With that type of player, once the talent starts to slip, the athleticism isn't there to make up the difference.

    If you look at Brad Wilkerson's list of similar players (towards the bottom, the age 27 list), you'll see a list of players who had decent, but not spectacular careers.

    On his list, only Kirk Gibson and Andre Thornton were major league regulars after age 32 (mostly thanks to the DH). Most of the others were washed up or out of the league completely.

    That's not a good sign for the future.

    John Sickels, the Minor League Guru, did a look back at how Wilkeron was as a prospect and has come to a similar conclusion. (It's worth a quick skim)

    So, if the right deal is there, Wilkerson's value might not be higher.

    The key would be the right deal.

    Back in the spring, there was talk of a Wilkerson for Vernon Wells deal. I don't know why the Jays would do that, but that's the kind of deal would need to make, because Wilkerson, in his best seasons, is a borderline All-Star talent.


    Whatever happens from here on out, Brad Wilkerson, despite his strikeouts, has been one of the Nationals most important hitters.

    Without his performance, this team wouldn't have been on pace for 50 wins. But it's not fair to scapegoat him for its recent losses.

    Whatever his faults, he's been pretty damn good.

    The Lost Weekend

    What a rough weekend.

    Friday night was the first (second? third?) rock bottom. It seemed like it'd be the last straw, at least. The Nationals got pasted by the Astros something like 72-1. (I don't remember -- I sorta blacked out after it was 10-0)

    Ryan Drese needed to keep us in the game. He didn't. And he wins a Lame Duck. Sunny Kim gave a command Horganesque performance in relief, but the blood had already been let.

    Saturday, things looked better on the surface. Majority Whip winner Tony Armas pitched seven innings of one-hit ball, and the Nationals squeezed out just enough runs.

    Things may have appeared great on the surface, but buried deep inside, the run-scoring sickness remained. The offense scored only because Houston's rookie centerfielder butchered a flyball.

    In yesterday's game, the team reverted to form. 14 innings after the game started, the Nationals had four hits in 45 at bats -- a blistering .089 batting average -- and another loss.

    It's not like the team didn't have chances. In the eighth inning, the Nationals had runners at the corners with nobody out. They didn't score. What's amazing about it, is that they eschewed their favorite form of rally killer, the double play grounder.

    Frank Robinson, in his typically aggressive style, burned through players and relievers as if the game would be called a tie All-Star Game style.

    Cordero, Ayala, Majewski and Stanton each got in the game, and each threw fewer than 15 pitches. By the time the game rolled around to the 13th inning, he was left with only Hector Carrasco and the charbroiled Sunny Kim, fresh off his toasting Friday night.

    In the 14th, with Carrasco well over 50 pitches, he gave up a 3-2 bomb to someone called Eric Bruntlett. As soon as it left the bat, I stood up off the couch, locked my hands behind my head, and made lap of frustration around my apartment.

    I can't be upset with Carrasco. He had thrown a bazillion pitches. But I can be angry with the offense.

    The Astros trotted out Wandy Rodriguez (No, that literally isn't his original baseball name), who had an ERA hovering near 7. And they couldn't scratch out a meaningful run.

    There were many candidates for Majority Whip, but one player whose struggles have slipped 'neath the radar is Jose Vidro. He had a torrid stretch when he first came back, but since then, he has been in a Guzmanian slump. He went 0-6 yesterday to drop his average all the way down to .259.

    The team is back on its no-offense bender, and the illusion of Saturday's game was just that.

    Nick Johnson returns tomorrow, which, if he's healthy, has to improve the offense.

    With three games against Atlanta, followed by three in Florida, this six-game stretch is a pretty big litmus test to see if we're capable of staying in the race.

    It truly felt like a lost weekend, but there's stil time for the team to get back to its feet.

    Sunday, July 24, 2005

    Dissecting Bowd-Son

    Loyal readers of Pravda know that Bill Ladson is your go-to guy. He certainly works hard, but as I and a few others have noted, he's not always where you'd need to go to view things critically (See the post below this for another example).

    When at the games, if you look at the pressbox, he's easy to identify, because he's the only one wearing a NATS #1 foam finger (at least when Tom Boswell's not there).

    The other way to identify him is that Jim Bowden is usually whispering in his ear.

    With that in mind, there are some interesting things in his latest notebook.

  • Vinny's knee still hurts. Originally he was going to be back Tuesday, but Guillen's HBP changed that.

  • The team is considering Dutch Zimmerman if Vinny continues to ache (and stink). Ladson says that his 'baseball source' [Who could that possibly be? Hmmmm] said they almost promoted him last week.

    WTF, Bodes?

    I love Dutch, but he's hitting just .267/ .333/ .456. That's wonderful when you factor in his age, and the advanced league, but it's still just double-A!

    Not only is he not ready offensively, why would you start his arbitration clock? The earlier you bring him up the sooner you lose him, and the more quickly he gets expensive. Great idea, Bodes.

    If you want a slick fielding, non-hitting third baseman, use some of your contacts and get Chris Sabo out of retirement.

  • NJ will be back on Tuesday. Good!

    Now, who gets wacked? Buck says, Sunny Kim, who Ladson conviently notes, has put up a Horganesque 8.15 ERA in relief.

    It's amazing how that stat just popped up there in today's notebook, isn't it?

  • The team is discovering that Preston Wilson sucks as a CFer. Who knew? (Put your hand down; It was rhetorical)

    But Ladson quotes Frank defending him, using the 'he's just getting used to RFK' line.

    Does that make any sense at all? Isn't a popup that drops in behind second base the same no matter what? And Coors Field has one of the largest centerfields in the majors. It's not like he was going from a bandbox to Griffith Stadium. Give it a rest. He stinks.

    Ladson also says that 'a reporter' initiated the questioning. I'm presuming he tacked that on in case Big Brother was watching.

  • Ladson mentions that the Nats tried to acquire Eddie Guardado, but that the Mariners wanted John Patterson. That's laughable by itself, but I appreciated Ladson's positive outlook, and risk-taking assertion about Patterson: "Patterson is considered one of the best starters on the Nationals' roster."

    Way to step out on a limb there, Laddy!

    I hear Some would say that you're one of the best beat writers on!


    We kid because we love, Rocket Bill! (Well, I do, but I'm pretty sure that Distinguished Senators hates you)

  • Saturday, July 23, 2005

    The Sunny Side Of Bill Ladson

    Our team just got pasted 14-1.

    And I know that most writers don't do their own headlines, but seems like a one-man operation.

    But still, isn't this a headline that would even make Boswell blush with embarassment?

    Friday, July 22, 2005

    Bill Swerski's Super Fans

    Now this'll probably sound a tad hypocritical coming from someone who has a blog and who has written a trillion words about the team, but today's Post has an article, which if I didn't know was serious, I'd think was parody.

    David Fahrenthold writes about some Nats fans (most of whom are from the BPG message board) who think they've figured out why the team's losing.

    It's not because of the crappy hitting. It's not because of a burned out bullpen. It's not because of a senile manager managing like it's 1968. Hell, it's not even a reversal of luck.

    It's the fans.

    Yep. The Nationals are losing because there aren't the right 'type' of fans in the stands.

    How freakin' egocentric, self-promoting and delusional do you have to be?

    Not everyone is going to enjoy the game on the same level. some people are going to be there to have fun and there are going to be some people who will show up covered in Nats logos from cap to sock.

    Both are valid 'fans'. Both paid their money. And neither has an appreciable effect on the game.

    We like to believe that we have an influence. It makes us feel like we're the difference in wins and losses. Get over ourselves. We're not.

    I'm sure the team does take some energy from playing in front of actual life-like crowds this year, and that that has helped their focus on the field. But it hasn't given them any wins. Their bats and their gloves have done that.

    Some will point to Chad Cordero's statement about how he enjoys the way the stands bounce. I'm sure he does, but to think that that has been the key to his success, as opposed to his slider, is delusional. Maybe it IS a factor, but it pales in comparison to his talents as a pitcher.

    The article does have one valid criticism. One person notes that some fans have told him to stop cheering so loudly. I'd tell that blue-haired hag to go do something that'd make the Nationals Inquirer blush.

    When I sat in the blue-blooded seats with Nats Blog, the crowd was fairly silent, and the person in the row in front of us was bothered by our cheering and applauding. Tough, lady. Tough.

    It's a baseball stadium, not a library.

    But we should be happy that they at least have enough interest or curiosity about the team as to go. The game experience at RFK is not a good one. It is if you're a diehard like us; we're there for the game, for the most part.

    But we need to respect that there are other people there for many other reasons.

    Besides, isn't it pretty reasonable to think that the reason the 'tone' of the crowd has changed has to do with two things? 1) Their crappy play over the last 18 days, and 2) The UNGODLY heat and humidity over the last week, which makes reasonable people just sit there trying to survive instead of exuding even more energy.

    These people, who may be learning baseball for the first time, aren't changing the 'karma' of the stadium. They're not changing the atmosphere. If anything, they're enhancing it, because there's more energy in a full stadium than a half-empty one, even if they're just sitting on their hands.

    And blaming them for not being SUPERFANS is especially obnoxious. Enjoy the game for the sake of enjoying the game.

    Quick Notes About A Dreadful Game

    Last night's game was a mixture of the dreadful head-in-ass play Monday night and the un-clutch performance on Wednesday. Eventually, they'll get it right, right?

    Carlos Baerga wins his second Lame Duck, narrowly edging the spectacularly un-clutch Jose Guillen for it. Baerga was 0-2, but he won this one with his glove.

    With Adam Everett on second, the Astros were in a bunt situation. Frank called for the Wheel Play, where the first and third basemen charge, and Carroll and Vidro rotate over to cover third and first respectively.

    Well, Baerga missed the sign. So he was sort of caught in no-man's land, but did manage to scoot his pear-shaped body back towards third for the throw. But, Jamey Carroll was bearing down on the bag, as was Everett, probably distracting him.

    Wilkerson's throw was right on the money. Baerga was in perfect position to field, amazingly. And the throw went right through him, trickling down the line. Everett came into score. The game, for all intents and purposes, was over.

  • Esteban Loaiza wasn't especially sharp, allowing 11 hits in just 7 innings, including a crushing RBI single to the flippin' pitcher.

  • Craig Biggio somehow got a double on a ball hit to centerfield that didn't go more than 100 feet. Yay defense!

  • Jose Guillen continued his torrid non-hit-when-they-matter pace.

  • Brad Wilkerson made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch in foul territory. Biggio, who was on third, tried to score, but Wilkerson whirled and made a strong throw to nail him at the plate easily.

  • The Preston Wilson AB in the 9th off Lidge was tremendous. He really battled, and earned the homer he hit. But I have this nagging feeling that Lidge was just playing cat and mouse, knowing he had a three-run lead.

  • The Astros TV announcers are fabulous. They seriously know more about our team and the circumstances of the move than any of our broadcasters do. We could be so lucky to have someone of their quality.

  • The loss sucked, especially coming off the stretch of games we've had.

    But keep in mind that this was a loss we ALL had penciled in. Despite the final score, the game wasn't close. This would've been a nice one to win, but if you played this one 100 times, we'd probably lose it 70 times.

    All you can do is move on and play the next game.

    With Roger Clemens on the mound, I have another loss penciled in. But I'd be delighted to ink in Ryan Drese's name.

  • Much Ado About Nuttin'

    Livan had time to rest his cranky head and reflect on his rambling press conference from Wednesday night.

    He's now claiming it was just frustration, mostly about his wonky knee. And he says he won't miss a start.

    That seemed the most reasonable explanation to me yesterday. I think that it all hit us because we were reeling too from the team's craptastic play. He caught us in a bad moment, and it elevated to something more important than it really was.

    Emotions are funny like that.

    Livan, however, is annoyed by the coverage of his remarks. Some media outlets did give the impression that Livan was quitting on the team. That, to me, was an incorrect interpretation, but based on some of the small sound bites from a rambling press conference, I can see how people would get that perception.

    Just let it go, big guy.

    Livan's next start will be next week against the Atlanta Braves. Hopefully some time off and the importance of that game will help clear his head, allowing him to rebound from three or four non-¡Livan! starts.

    My, What Big Gaps You Have!

    Barry and Boz, the Woodward and Bernstein of the sports section, tried measuring the field dimensions the other day. Someone from the management caught them and kicked them off the field, but not before agreeing to have the measurements surveyed.

    The result? The posted dimensions were off. Way off.

    The 380 gap in left-center is actually 395, just as it is in right-center. But what's 15 feet between friends?

    They did find, however, that the centerfield measurement was wrong, but in the other direction. It's actually only 408, not the marked 410.

    This is something that we sort of instinctively knew. I can only think of one or two balls that have gone out of the park from gap to gap. And in Boz' column from the other day, he noted that there's only been one opposite-field homerun in the park.

    One thing that the article doesn't address that I think needs mentioning is the wind currents. My seats are in right field, right near the foul pole. I have a pretty good angle on seeing the flight of the ball.

    Balls that are hit high (towering flies instead of liners) seem to hang up in the wind and get knocked down. I'm assuming the wind swirls in the bowl, and sweeps down off the face of the seats there. And the effect has certainly been dramatic on a number of balls this season.

    One final note on the column. Barry's a good writer, but he makes a mistake with his statistics here. He notes that the Great American Ballpark has yielded the most home runs this season, RFK the least.

    He's right in a technical sense, but it's the wrong stat to use to convey what he means.

    The raw stat, as he uses it, doesn't account for the quality of the teams. The Reds, for example, do play in a homer-friendly park, but they're also a power-hitting team. Just taking a raw total of homers doesn't tell you much. You need to compare their home/road totals and the home/road totals yielded by their pitchers.

    Look at the Rockies. I've seen a certain fat-necked TV pundit assert that GABP is a better hitters park than Coors Field because of that stat. He, as he usually is, is wrong.

    The Coors Field numbers appear low because they're trotting out a young, mostly Triple-A lineup. They won't hit for power anywhere.

    But if you look at their home/road splits, you'll see that they're hitting for more power at home, just as you'd expect.

    And if you make the necessary adjustments and twirl your abacus, Coors would still be the homer champ.

    If you make the same calculations, at least from what I've seen because I've forgotten how to even turn on a calculator, RFK is the champ in the other direction.

    But we already knew that. Our eyes told us that.

    Thursday, July 21, 2005

    GameDay: No No-No Edition

    If there was ever a time that a team screamed out to be no-hit it's tonight!

    Esteban Loaiza draws the unlucky assignment of facing Roy Oswalt.

    There's a bridge-jumping support group at Yuda's. C'mon and chat along. As always, ignore the first 400 comments.

    Jimmy Bo's Happy Funtime Band

    Other notes to divert our mind from the pain...

  • Barry Larkin has given the first indication that he might play for the team this year. Of course, by the time he gets into playing shape and gets his timing down, it'll be September. Gee, thanks, Barry. Why couldn't you have thought of that 4 months ago?

  • Nick Johnson and his Achilles heel took BP yesterday, for the first time. He still complained of pain, but Tom McCraw, in a rare bout of alertness, said that he didn't show any signs of the pain bothering him.

  • The newly-acquired Kenny Kelly saw Pinch-running duties in the game, filling the void left by Tony "Baerga's legs" Blanco.

  • Vinny Castilla pinch hit at the end of the game. He had a solid AB, but lined out sharply to end the game. He was limping badly off the field, and didn't appear like he'd be able to run, or stay in the game, had he reached base.

  • The park continues to swallow up flyballs, with the Nationals hitting at least three balls that would've gone out of most other stadiums.

    Of course most every team we've played does the same thing, so moving the fences in wouldn't be a good idea.

  • Bodes says there are no immediate plans to fill in the two 40-man roster spots left open by yesterday's transactional flurry. Umm... alrighty.

  • A company is suing MLB, claiming they have the rights to the name "Washington Nationals" for merchandise and apparel. Isn't trademark law fun?

  • Crap The Bed The JOSE Way

    Last night's game wasn't the stinkfest that Monday's was. Still, the Nationals found even more new ways to not score runs, and gave the Rockies their first road series win of the year. Yeah, it's that bad.

    Livan pitched about as badly as a starter can while yielding just three runs. Four HBP will tend to do that.

    The baserunning was abyssmal, as usual.

    The Nationals led off the game with three line-drive hits, yet managed to score only one run.

    Jose Vidro hit an RBI double and tried advancing to third when the throw to the infield rolled towards no-man's land. The third baseman started towards it, leaving the bag open. Vidro broke for third, but arrived at the area of the ball about the same time as the fielder. A quick tag later and Vidro could continue his jaunt towards third base much more slowly as he walked back to the dugout.

    Brad Wilkerson made the next dumb decision of the game. After lining a base hit, he was caught off first on Jose Guillen's bloop towards right field. It was one of those tough plays that force the 1B to make a tough over-the-shoulder catch as he's running away from the infield, but it was pretty clear that Todd Helton, a Gold Glove first baseman was getting to it.

    Wilkerson had run 7/8 of the way towards second base, stopped, turned and watched Helton and froze. He didn't really start making a move back until the ball was practically in Helton's glove.

    I know he didn't want to get forced out at second had the ball dropped in, but he completely misread the ball. Wilkerson has proven to be a pretty pisspoor baserunner all season. This was just par for the course.

    But the Lame Duck was the guy who got the unfortunate DP listed to his name, Jose Guillen.

    Jose took an ofer in four ABs, failing to come through in the clutch in two huge situations.

    In the sixth, after Brad Wilkerson doubled, he had a chance to drive him in. Instead, each time he swung, he corkscrewed himself into the ground like he was one of the Gas House Gorillas. The result: a demoralizing strikeout.

    In the eighth, the same situation arose. He had a runner on second with a chance to be the game-breaker. Again he failed, hitting a fly to center.

    Jose talks a good game, but there've been many instances where he's failed to deliver.

    In the 4th inning, he hit a grounder to short. As per his usual, he lolligagged towards first. Relaford's throw was wild. Upon seeing that, Jose decided that it'd be a good time to run. He made it to second. But, had he been running and with RFK's HUGE foul territory, there was a pretty good chance he could've ended up on third with just one out in the inning.

    That drives me nutty. He doesn't have to run like he's Ichiro on a routine grounder, but don't half-ass it like that.

    It might've cost the team a run against Milwaukee when he didn't run a DP ball out hard, and it might've cost a run here last night. You can't be certain in either case.

    But you can be certain that it hurts the team, when they're showing they have no margin for error.

  • WTF Frank Senior Moment

    Two candidates tonight!

    1) Why would you hit Gary Bennett for Brian Schneider in the 9th? Bennett's a lousy hitter, even with the platoon advantage. Schneider doesn't hit lefties especially well, but he's been seeing the ball really well lately, hence his rise to 5th in the batting order.

    The results were predictable, and Ryan Church's lefty-on-lefty action later in the inning just increased the fury.

    2) With Jamey Carroll working a leadoff walk in the 8th inning, WHY WOULD YOU BUNT JOSE VIDRO?????????!?!??

    The guy has been the team's lone good hitter over the last month. He's a doubles machine. He had the platoon advantage.

    And following him was the recently non-hitting Brad Wilkerson and the choking-under-pressure Jose Guillen. That's not a good choice, Frank.

  • Last night's loss was demoralizing. And the Livan BS after the game just grinded entire blocks of salt into the wound.

    We're not getting the one big hit at exactly the right time that we did earlier in the season. Our luck has changed.

    But the wonderful thing about luck is that it is, by its very nature, fluky. There's nothing to say that our luck can't turn, and that those hits won't start dropping in.

    I keep saying it, but I firmly believe it. You're never as good as you look when you're winning. And the converse is true: you're never as bad as you look when you're losing.

    We've looked wretched the last few nights. This team is better than that.

    They just need to start playing like it.

    Nats Blog answers the musical question: What Would Tom Petty Sing?

  • El Caballo Está Enojado

    Alright, so Livan went off last night after the game and everyone's trying to figure out why. Let's start with the things we know.
    • Livan pitched like junk. He got the job done, for the most part. Three runs in 7 innings isn't bad. But, for Livan, and facing that lineup, you'd expect better. JD fappin' Closser homered to right! He can't even do that in Denver!

    • Livan hasn't pitched especially well lately. His last three outings, plus the All-Star game, he's looked off -- definitely not the ¡Livan! we came to know and love.

    • His frosting-filled knee has been killing him all season. He tweaked it good very early in the season, and has aggravated it a few times. It was to the point where he didn't even run ground balls out.

    • Having as little run support as the team's providing, and with the slide the team has been on must be frustrating.

    • He's supposedly close to Wife Beatin' Wil Cordero, who was cut earlier in the year.

    • Over the past three years, he's had a series of run-ins with Frank Robinson. It culminated a year or two ago when there was a Tomo Ohka-like show of disrespect.

      Apparently they had words and reached a sort of truce wherein Livan, essentially, calls his own shots. Livan decides when he's done pitching.

      I'd imagine that that sort of free reign is why Livan wasn't in uniform in the Philly series when they needed him to PH after Junior Spivey's apparently self-inflicted injury. (I'm kidding about that last part!)
    With all that swirling around, Livan vented. If you heard his full statement, instead of some of the sound bites, you'd hear the sound of someone blowing off steam more than anything.

    There are several issues at play here and he was venting about all of them. To properly assess where he's at, you need to isolate each of them individually.

    It's entirely possible that his knee IS killing him and that he can't go on much further, but that decision will be made in isolation, probably, from the others.

    He's frustrated, and he lets loose with a stream-of-consciousness rant, which sounds more bizarre, presumably because of the language barrier.

    I'm not as worked up or worried about it as I was last night when I first heard it.

    But it is important that he get that knee checked out. And despite his kvetching, I have a hunch we'll see him right back out there in 4 more days.


    Sez the AP:
    Perhaps Livan Hernandez was frustrated by giving away a lead in a loss to the NL-worst Colorado Rockies. Or by tying a modern major-league record by hitting four batters. Or maybe he was upset he was taken out after seven innings.

    The Washington Nationals' All-Star pitcher wouldn't say exactly what was bothering him or fully explain why he suddenly announced after Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to the Rockies that he's contemplating having right knee surgery that could end his season.

    "I'm not happy for three years. After the season, I'm going to tell you" why, said Hernandez, 12-4 with a 3.44 ERA and the unquestioned staff ace.

    "It's 99.9 percent I'm not going to pitch no more" this season, he said. "I'm done, I think, so let's see what happens. ... I'll go to sleep and I'm going to make a decision tonight."

    His right knee has been a nagging problem all year, and it was drained May 16. But Hernandez said it's not bothering him enough to affect his pitching -- nor was he told to have the knee worked on.

    "It's not the doctors. It's me. I'm the doctor. I don't need it, but I'm going to" have an operation, he said.

    Pressed to explain why, Hernandez said: "I'm tired of something. ... I'll tell you when the season's over. I'm mad."

    Told of Hernandez's comments, Nationals manager Frank Robinson said he didn't want to say much without hearing directly from his pitcher.

    "I have no idea who he's mad at," Robinson said.

    It's probably you, Frank.

    I'm too tired and angry to rant now. But I'll definitely have some coherent thoughts in the morning.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005

    Farewell Wife Beater

    Wil Cordero has been Designated for Assigment, removing him from the active and 40-man rosters. It's hard to get broken up over that.

    Even if he wasn't hitting worse than Guzman, he's a horrible human being, and just about anything bad that happens to him is probably deserved.

    In his place comes Kenny Kelly, a toolsy outfielder claimed off waivers from the Cincinnati Reds, as Bowden continues in his quest to claim every Cincinnati player he ever had in his sytem.

    Kenny Kelly won't be a superstar, but he probably has his uses.

    Our friends at Red Reporter are certainly ticked off over the transaction.

    The Nationals are now carrying six outfielders: Wilkerson, Guillen, Wilson, Church, Byrd and Kelly.

    Something's gotta be up, right? Might Church or Wilkerson be on their way out?

    The Yankees were sniffing around Marlon Byrd earlier; they desparately need a good defensive centerfielder.

    Your guess is as good as mine.

    To add to the mystery, Joe "Pythagoras Killer" Horgan and Jacobo Sequea were outrighted, freeing up their roster spots in the 40-man too.

    We now have two empty spots on the 40-man. Might that be a sign that a prospects for major leaguers trade is imminent?

    Nationals Farm Authority has some speculation.

    Whatever happens, it's time to celebrate! Cordero's gone!

    Boswell On The Park

    Tom Boswell writes a weekly email column. Most of them have been fluff, but today's was excellent. Read the whole stinkin' thing.

    "There's no way it's only 380 feet," said Vinnie Castilla who has hit 309 homers, but only six this year compared to 35 last year in Colorado's home run heaven. Castilla has seen two of his best blasts -- "way out of any other park" -- hit near the very top of the diabolical 380 sign, as though it was taunting him. "If this was any normal ballpark, I'd have about 16 homers so far."

    "I'd probably have 15," said Brad Wilkerson to Castilla. Last year, Wilkerson had 32 homers but this season, like Castilla, he's got only six -- on pace for a paltry 11 homers.

    "I know my own power and I know that sign is wrong -- by a lot," said Guillen. "I should have 26 homers."

    "You see all those notches he's carved above his locker?" says catcher Brian Schneider, grabbing Guillen playfully. "He's keeping track of 'em. He's gonna tear out that chunk (of wall) and take it to arbitration. Think Jim (Bowden) will count those?"

    Insert Barry Pun Here

    Barry Svrluga takes your questions at 2.

    Get 'em in early!

    Possible questions:
    --How will the team's lousy stretch, and potential collapse from the postseason affect his book sales?
    --Why didn't he write a hatchet job on Guzman like Sheinin?
    --Who's his favorite Ninja Turtle?

    The Little Things Matter

    Marc Fisher has a nice little column about observing a baseball game, and how watching some of the subtle things at a baseball game can be more rewarding than following the ball.

    I've done what he talks about, and followed a single player around for a game. It really is interesting how they go about their positioning, and many of the signals they'll make to other players.

    It can also be interesting to focus on the umpires and how they're constantly adjusting their location and using hand signals to communicate with each other.

    It's easy to miss all those things when you're watching on Fox -- especially with their never-ending closeups: Hey look! Derek Jeter needs to blow his nose!

    Don't Expect A Christmas Card, Dave

    Dave Sheinin does what someone should've done a long time ago: eviscerate Cristian Guzman.
    He has a lower slugging percentage than Esteban Loaiza, a lower on-base percentage than Josh Beckett and a lower batting average than Tomo Ohka, so Cristian Guzman, the starting shortstop for the entire existence of the Washington Nationals, is now being treated like a starting pitcher: He will receive a few days off between starts. At this point, what other choice do the Nationals have?

    And that's the most friendly paragraph!

    Obviously I concur with the article, so instead of the Amen chorus, there were two things that struck me about the article.

    1) This is an example of how to write an article using statistics. One of my earliest rants on this blog was how writers, particularly statheads, misuse stats and don't know how to write with them. To me, stats and their usage in a story are simply adjectives; they're different ways of describing things. And a good writer needs to be as selective and careful with the stats he'd present as he is with the choices of the words he uses in a sentence.

    Sheinin, who was an excellent beat writer for the Orioles, does a great job, illuminating the problem by using the stats, but not overwhelming us with them.

    He finds that great mixture between the chart-heavy Baseball Prospectus articles and the overly-saccharine homerism of Boswell.

    2) Notice who wrote the article. It wasn't Barry Svrluga, who covers the team on a daily basis. You have to believe that that's deliberate, and it shows one of the interesting things about covering a pro team, especially in a media market that lacks the competition of NY or Boston.

    Barry has made similar observations in some of his Washington Post chats, yet he's never written an article like this. It was left up to the roving reporter, who isn't in the clubhouse on a daily basis. That way, Barry doesn't have to deal with any of the wrath that might (and might is the right word) pop up.

    It's the journalistic equivalent of Good Cop/Bad Cop.

    This isn't a criticism of Barry or of the Post's coverage, but it does affect how you need to read Barry's excellent stories.

    As a reporter, Barry can't inject much opinion, but the choices of story lines and descriptions can hint at how he feels about issues. While he's never been overly negative about the team, there have been times where you can read frustration and hints of displeasure in his words.

    He's very good about coding them. Think about some of the allusions to Jose Guillen's issues, and his role in the team.

    Sometimes it's only a sentence or two, but he's good about dropping hints.

    All you need to do is read closely, and they'll sometimes appear.

    That's More Like It

    The Nationals 4-0 pasting of the lowly Rockies was the kind of result they should have had the previous night, and the kind of result we've been used to.

    Unlike Monday's game, this game lacked as many huge mental and physical errors, but it still wasn't a crisp game, as the Nationals find ways to NOT score runs.

    The Majority Whip was the starter, John Patterson. He had the best game of his season, pitching 8+ innings and giving up just three hits.

    A day after the bullpen was shredded when Tony Armas couldn't get more than six outs, JP stepped up and kept most of the bullpen off the mound.

    Patterson has pitched brilliantly all season long, but rarely makes it out of the seventh inning. He's the type of pitcher who puts maximum effort into every single pitch, and because of the high number of strikeouts, throws a lot of pitches per inning.

    Contrast his very physical style with the laid-back tossings of Livan Hernandez. Even though they both throw a ton of pitches per inning, Livan paces himself better.

    That's not to say that Patterson should relax; that's not his style. And there aren't many people like Livan who can get away with it.

    But Patterson can be more economical. He has decent control, and frequently finds himself ahead in the count 0-2. Obviously, you don't want to lob a hittable strike on that count, but Patterson usually takes the opposite extreme. He'll throw two balls that really aren't that enticing.

    Wasting pitches is ok, sometimes, but he needs to make a better effort to make them 'hittable' balls.

    The team needed a strong outing from a starter and got it.

    It's hard to say that a win against the Colorado Rockies was a big win, but it sure felt like it given the nosedive they've been on over the last three weeks.

    With Livan on the mound tonight, they need to win their first series since playing the Cubs back before the Fourth of July.

  • The other news of the day was the benching of Cristian Guzman. Jamey Carroll slid into his spot, but Guzman came on the field late, playing the part of Carlos Baerga's legs, and serving as a defensive sub at short.

    Frank has said that he'll sit Guzman a few days, hoping he can get his head in order.

    Cristian should feel free to take all the time he needs. Say, how does three months sound?

  • Guzman wasn't the only change. Frank completely shifted the lineup around, and other than having Jamey Carroll lead off, it was actually a pretty good lineup.

    Frank has a fetish for alternating L/R/L in the batting order, which can create a few strange alignments.

    But the one he trotted out there, while not ideal, is actually capable of scoring runs in a major league game, even with Baerga!

  • Ryan Church had a poor day, hitting into two double plays. I don't think Church is as good as he's shown, but he's still a decent hitter -- one who comes cheaply!

    Still, with the team doing everything in their power to bury him on the bench, he's going to need to make the most of every chance he gets, and games like last night aren't going to instill much confidence in him from Frank.

  • I'm going to resist piling on Zach Day, who was brought in and got hammered. He pitched very well for the Nationals franchise, but most of those great outings came when he was with the Expos.

    He's an underrated pitcher by most Nationals fans, and deserves a pat on the back, not jeers.

  • Mike Stanton proved once again that he's not a lefty specialist. Everyone pointed to his splits this year, which were pretty extreme, but that ignores the previous 10 years of data, which contradict that.

  • Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    GameDay: Please Win One Damnit Edition

    Shawn Chacon goes against John Patterson. Patterson, who's been excellent, needs to conserve his pitches and get the team to at least the 8th inning, especially the way the bullpen was abused yesterday.

    Guzman is finally out of the lineup, and Vinny Castilla gets a day of rest for their knee. Unfortunately, they're replaced by Jamey Carroll and Carlos Baerga, practically negating any effect of those benchings. Where have you gone Brendan Harris and Rick Short? This is our hour of need!

    C'mon and chat along. The Nats need this one bad, or first place disappears by the time we all wake up in the morning. Just ignore the first 325 comments.

    Almost Famous

    While I'm not quite the multimedia SuperStar like some of my fellow Nats Bloggers, I finally got my first media experience with a typically banal quote in the Christian Science Monitor.

    And all I had to do was promise to stop using aspirin! /Rat-bastard cheapshot

    Step 14 on my quest to rule the world is complete. Only 4,856 more to go!

    There Are Others

    I'm not the only one disgusted by last night's game.

    Boswell seems to think it's not a good sign:
    Before this game, it was premature to fret about the Nats. Not anymore. If they aren't in a full-blown slump, it's mighty close. The Braves are on their heels. The weather and the pressure will only get hotter. This game demonstrated, beyond one night's score, that the Nats need to calm down considerably. Otherwise, high expectations will not remain a problem for too long.

    Thom Loverro is starting to worry a little bit:
    Now the obvious questions will start hounding the Nationals -- is it a fog, or were their 52 wins and perch atop the NL East at the All-Star break an aberration? Is Washington's play of late a reflection of a team at the bottom of nearly every offensive category in the National League and in the most competitive division in baseball?

    Despite the losses, that doesn't seem to be true. The Nationals are not getting killed; they simply are making mistakes. A team that lives on the edge cannot afford to give away anything.

    "As bad as we have been, a key hit at the right time and we would have won a few of those games," Robinson said before the game.

    Not by committing errors or failing to execute bunts, though. If you are a limited team and you start failing in the few things you do well, you have a team that soon will be going the wrong way in the NL East.

    Nasty Nats isn't happy:
    This was sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Everyone should be embarrassed. Even the crowd tonight should be embarrassed; it seemed like a tomb on TV. The leaders on this team need to step up and call everyone to account. This is where the team needs to realize it's not a joke. The Braves are for real. The rest of the NL East is not a joke.

    And I'm in a rage right now. Depending on how much I think about it, I alternate between uncontrollable anger and tears.

    Nationalz is frustrated:
    This is seriously getting ridiculous. Every team has ups and downs during a season, but I’m getting emotionally involved now. After all of the work to take and keep first in the NL East, this sort of little league play is just sorry.

    At least I'm in good company.

    Rock Bottom?

    The stink at the ballpark wasn't coming from the Anacostia for once. It was coming from the bats. It was coming from the gloves. It was coming from the cleats. And it was coming from the dugout.

    If there was something the Washington Nationals could screw up, they did it. And then they screwed it up a second time.

    The result? Another one-run loss, this one to the worst road team in baseball. It can't get much worse than this.


  • Typically ineffective starter Tony Armas only pitched two innings, leaving the game with dizziness and dehydration. The nasty part of me assumes that's codeword for hung over, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • Brad Wilkerson went 0-5, leaving five runners on base. He was also unable to scoop out a wild throw at first -- a tough, but makeable play.

  • Vinny Castilla had a rough night. He went just 0-4, but he committed two errors. One was a diving stop to his left. He knocked the ball down, scrambled for it, picked it up and fired wildly past first (the play Wilkerson should've made).

    The second was the critical play in the 9th inning. He simply let a ball get through him. I don't know if it was a tough hop, or if he just missed it, but it slid right through like Taco Ball would.

    I'm not going to get all over Vinny for that one. He IS playing on a knee that resembles hamburger, but I will get over Frank for continuing to run him out there when he's that badly hurt, so much so that he can't make a routine play.

  • Jose Vidro was alright, but you could see him get frustrated in the 9th inning. He was desparately trying to get on base, and thought he had a walk on a 3-1 pitch. The ump missed the call, as the ball was slightly low and outside. On the 3-2 pitch, Fuentes went to the same area, but much closer for a borderline strike. Vidro started walking towards first, thinking it was a ball. When he was called out by the ump, he threw a tantrum and his helmet, earning an immediate ejection. Somewhere, Paul O'Neill wiped a tear from his eye.

  • Vidro's ejection led Frank to one of the single stupidist decisions he's made all year. When I compile all the WTF Frank Senior Moments, this is a definite top-3.

    Down by just 1 in the 9th inning, the Nationals had two runners on. Ryan Church, who's already had at least three game-winning hits this season, was due to bat against Fuentes, who's a lefty. In the GameDay chat, we were speculating whether Frank would let Church bat or hit for him with Byrd.

    The answer, as it usually is with Frank, is neither.

    Up to the plate stepped Captain Chaste himself, Jamey Carroll. Now Jamey Carroll's a fine human being and a pretty good backup middle infielder. But as we discussed yesterday, he's not all that far removed from Guzmanian territory.

    And, true to Nationals form, the first pitch went 6. Then it went to 4. Then it went to 3. And we all screamed obscenities.

    WHY, FRANK, WHY??? [feel free to insert obscenity where you feel appropriate]

    Carroll had to come into the game at some point, because of Vidro's ejection, but there's no reason he had to hit for Church. Robinson has picked fights with plenty of his players and if he thinks you're not tough enough, he'll turn on you. It seems like Church is in that category, and maybe we're to the point where we need to consider what we could get for Church in a trade.

    Personally, from what I've seen, and from things I've heard behind the scenes, I'd prefer them to promote Frank to the front office and get a manager who trusts his players, knows in-game strategy, and doesn't run down anyone he dislikes.

  • But if that wasn't enough to get your blood boiling, consider the Lame Duck winner: Cristian Guzman. It's his second award in as many nights.

    There were three, maybe four, separate plays that, on an ordinary night, would've earned him the award.

    The party line on him is that he catches everything hit to him and that his glove is valuable, blah blah blah.

    Consider the ground ball that could've been an inning-ending DP, but instead went through him.

    Or consider his 'play' on the Castilla error in the 9th inning. With a runner on second, Guzman tried making a play on the ball so that he could throw out the runner. What he should've done was knock the ball down and keep it on the infield. If he does that, there are runners on the corners and two outs. Instead, the run came in to score.

    The party line is that he's a .260 career hitter and that he can do the small things with the bat.

    Consider his first bunt attempt of the evening. As the ball came in, low in the zone, Guzman swung the bat down, low in the zone in a small arc. When he connected with the ball, he was on the upswing. The result was a perfect chip shot, one that'd make Tiger envious. Unfortunately, all Byung-Hyun Kim had to do was watch it fall, pick it up, fire to second, and wait for the return throw to first. Guzman was out easily, in part, because he decided he'd watch his masterwork. (Guillenitis, I guess)

    Or consider his second bunt attempt. With one strike already on him, he 'bunted' at a pitch that would've been a wonderful shot in bocce. With two strikes he bunted/waved at a pitch over his head and off the plate AWAY! He got the end of the bat on it, tipping it back behind the plate for the dreaded K/bunt. (How many of those freakin' things has this team had?)

    Guzman needs to go. The fans were booing him pretty loudly.

    I'm not a big fan of booing a player, but I'm happy the fans are finally booing him.

    The way I view it is that it isn't so much for Guzman, but for Frank Robinson for writing his freakin' name in the lineup card every game, and for Jim Bowden, who refuses to do anything other than blow in Barry Larkin's ear.

    Today's Post indicates they're going after Wife Beatin' Julio Lugo of the Devil Rays. He'd be a good option, but it's unrealistic. The Devil Rays are a hard team to pull off trades with. They're like the one team in your roto league who thinks that every one of their players is an MVP, and refuses to trade unless you ship them Barry Bonds AND Johann Santana.

    For the sake of the team, and their craptastic play, they better hope that Bodes has other plans.

  • The lead in the division is down to .5 games. Today could be the last time we see first place all season.

    But they still have two games with the Rockies.

    And as I always say, you're never as bad as you look when you're losing.

    After last night's stinkfest, that damn well better be true.

  • Monday, July 18, 2005

    GameDay: Stop The Slide Edition

    What happens when the team with the worst road record meets the team with the best home record? The Nationals better hope it's a sweep; they need wins, badly!

    It's the foul ball machine, Tony Armas (Seriously, count the number of fouls he gives up) against Byung-Hyun Kim. Why do they call him BK Kim? That's always driven me crazy.

    In the past, with Kim you'd get a walk, a strikeout, or a hardhit ball. We'll see how he adjusts to sea level and the accompanying oppressive humidity.

    Yuda has the chat. Ignore the first 280 comments though.

    This Just In: Guzman Stinks

    The news that Cristian Guzman would stink on ice isn't new. But what is new is that the team (or at least their manager) is finally grumbling that he might need to do something about it.

    Guzman wins another Lame Duck for his sheer incompetence with the bat. He only went 0-2, because Frank finally, and smartly, pinch hit for him late in the game.

    But because this is Guzman, he managed to make three outs in those two ABs, thanks to ANOTHER double play. Despite hitting at the bottom of the order, he's tied for 20th in double plays. That's just brutal.

    What can be done though?

  • Frank's flirting with the idea of playing Jamey Carroll. While Jamey Carroll is an upgrade over Cristian Guzman, it's a bit like choosing lethal injection over the electric chair.

    He's hitting just .249/ .311/ .280, which would make Carroll one of the worst regulars in the league. Remember, this is a player who by virtue of playing brutal offensive second base, forced Jim Bowden to trade a starting pitcher for a stopgap second baseman.

    Carroll's not the answer at short.

  • The minor leagues are, in theory, a possibility.

    One problem, there aren't any major league quality shortstops at Triple-A.

    Rick Short has nominanly been a shortstop, but he's been logging most of his time at first base and DH this season. Part of the reason that he's never had a sniff of the majors before this season is the perception that he's not a good fielder.

  • A Trade

    Well, for who? There aren't a ton of shortstops floating around. That's why the good ones *coughTejadacough* are so valuable.

    One name, as a possibility, is Deivi Cruz. He's playing second for the Giants, because Omar Vizquel has short covered, but has traditionally played short. No one will confuse him for Tejada with the glove, or with the bat, but he'd be a pretty substantial upgrade over Guzman: .286/ .309/ .429. His offensive profile also matches up with the park -- he's a definite line-drive hitter and has put up some great doubles numbers (As many as 46)

    He's not very good defensively, but when he's having a good offensive season, as he is this year, he's close to league-average for a short stop.

    That's not to say that I think that he's an answer. It's just that there ARE some possibilities out there.

  • Regardless of what happens, Guzman isn't happy, "Everybody knows I'm an everyday player," Guzman said. "I know I'm not a bench player."

    On one respect, this quote infuriates me. How can someone be so self-unaware? He's the worst regular player in the league, BY A MILE.

    But, in another respect, it's a good sign. He's fighting, and he still thinks he's capable of starting. He hasn't given up.

    But if the team is really serious about moving forward in the pennant race, you can't worry about bruising anyone's egos. You need to do what's best for this team.

    And getting Guzman out of the lineup, or pinch hitting for him at EVERY opportunity, are what's best.

  • 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.

  • Friday, July 15, 2005

    Bailing Wire And Glue

    There are certain statistical analyst who dwell on starters' pitch count. They've developed several iterations of statistics to show which pitchers are being abused. By most of their measures, Livan Hernandez is clinically dead. Yet he survives.

    Sometimes observation is enough to make a judgement. And, when you combine that with numbers, you frequently come closer to the truth.

    All of which is a long way of saying that our relievers are toast.

    Remember back in May how confident you'd be when the game was turned over to Ayala or Majewski? Do any of you still have that supreme confidence? Or have you started hoping, instead of knowing?

    The reason that we're in first place this deep into the season is the same reason we've been able to do so well despite being outscored. It's not because we're clutch. It's not because of character.

    It's simply because our bullpen has been kicking ass. When they came into the game, the opposing team wasn't going to score. It was as simple as that. Our relievers gave us just enough time to scratch one or two runs across the board -- think of all the late-inning rallies we've had. Without a shutdown bullpen, they'd have been for nought.

    In the process of racking up all those one-run wins, the bullpen over-extended itself. They can only throw so many innings, and in half a season, they've thrown about two-thirds of a season's worth.

    That doesn't bode well for the future.

    I started looking at their stats more deeply. Other than Cordero's numbers, there's a lot of smoke and a few too many mirrors being used.

              K/9    BB/9    HR/9   ARP    WRL   IP     ERA
    Cordero 7.93 2.22 0.74 17.2 4.6 48.2 1.13
    Ayala 4.76 1.36 0.85 8.7 1.9 53 3.06
    Majewski 4.36 3.95 0.21 4.4 1.4 43.1 3.53

    The first three stats should be self-explanatory: strikeouts, walks and homers per 9 innings pitched.

    ARP and WRL are Baseball Prospectus statheady stats, but they make intuitive sense.

    ARP is adjusted runs prevented; it aims to tell you how many runs better they are than an average pitcher. In Cordero's case, an average pitcher would've given up over 17 more runs. That might not sound like a lot on the surface, but think about when those runs would come. Then think about how many one-run wins we've had.

    WRL is wins over replacement level. This stat essentially does the same thing as the previous, but it measures the actual impact on wins given the opposition. Cordero's figure leads the league by 1.5 wins; a huge total.

    Those two stats show how damn valuable our pen has been to our success.

    But the first three stats can help to tell us whether we're likely to keep it up.

  • Cordero's numbers are excellent. He's not a dominant strikeout pitcher. Brad Lidge, for example, has a K/9 of around 14. Despite that, his rate is above average, and he's shown an ability to get the K when he really needs it.

    His walk rate is very good, which is important for a closer. You don't want him putting on any more runners than necessary.

    I was surprised at the homer rate. It's a little higher than I had expected, but he has shown the propensity to give up a solo bomb when he has a two-run lead. He can be beaten with the homerun, but he's far from prone.

    He's pitched a ton of innings and throws a lot of pitches per inning, but other than when he's been used heavily (three days in a row, or four of five), he's shown an ability to handle it. Despite the overall workload, there hasn't been a noticeable decline in his pitching.

  • Luis Ayala was the rock. But he's thrown a ton of innings this year and last. Also, he played winter ball, and served as the closer for the Mexico team that won the Caribbean World Series. I can't find a record of how much pitching he did in the off-season, but it came off an 81-appearance, 90-inning season last year.

    He's complained of shoulder pain recently too. It's been reported that he had asked out of the weekend with the Phillies, in part, because of his desire for time off.

    And it's starting to show. He's given up runs in each of his last three appearances, and his season numbers have started to climb; opposing batters are now hitting .307 off him.

    What's worrying about Ayala's performance are those underlying numbers. His 4.76 K/9 is dreadfully low, especially for a setup reliever. Last season, he struck out over 6 batters per 9. That could be an indication that he's tiring and losing a little on his pitches.

    He's succeeded to this point because of his extremely low walk total. He hasn't given anyone a free base; he's made them hit their way on, which they've been doing with increasing frequency. He's been fairly stingy with the longball too, but his homer rate probably isn't anything special when you factor in the park; he's definitely given up his share of long drives to the warning track at RFK.

    Going forward, I have a lot of concern about whether he can remain as successful. He was frequently overshadowed by Cordero, but his success in the first half was almost as important.

    We don't notice how important until we see him fail, as he did yesterday against Milwaukee.

  • Gary Majewski is in much the same state as Ayala. He has a lousy strikeout rate. But he's also been pretty medicore when it comes to giving out walks. His 3.95 BB/9 rate is pedestrian at best. He has survived solely because he doesn't give up homers.

    The homer he gave up to Thomas Howard last week, which blew a save chance, was the first he's allowed all season.

    That alone should put up red flags. Majewski's homer rate has nowhere to go but up. If that goes up, and he's not able to increase his strikeouts or reduces his walks, his ERA will balloon up pretty damn quickly.

  • _____

    Hector Carrasco, and perhaps Mike Stanton, will take on an increasingly vital role as we march through the summer. Does that sentence scare you as much as it does me?

    That alone is why Bowden needed to bolster the pitching staff before adding another bat to an already crowded and competent outfield.

    Just to throw some random names from bad teams out there:
    Danys Baez, Kent Mercker, Kyle Farnsworth, Jamie Walker, Aaron Fultz, Ron Villone.

    I'm not necessarily endorsing these guys -- I just took a superficial look at their numbers. The larger point is that Bodes could have any of these guys for next to nothing. There are relievers with decent numbers falling out of the sky.

    It's just a matter of identifying the problem, and taking action to correct it.

    Because with fatigue starting to dramatically impact our already over achieving bullpen, Bodes could trade for Miguel Tejada and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference.