Monday, April 24, 2006

The Agony And The Ecstasy

Sorry for the delay. Blogger is to the internet as Ramon Ortiz is to pitching....

After weekends like this, I'm always amazed at how fickle emotions can be. If the Nats had played last night's 3-1 loss on Friday, and if Friday's 7-3 game were played yesterday, we'd all feel a lot better today.

Friday night's game was tremendous. John Patterson and Alfonso Soriano were the stars, and both had Majority Whip caliber performances. But who does it go to?

John Patterson pitched into the 8th inning, and was dominant. He struck out eight batters, and controlled the game until a brain cramp in the eighth. After Brian McCann hit a one-out double, Tony Pena hit a hard grounder to Nick Johnson that pulled him far from the bag. Both he and John Patterson hesitated on what should've been a fairly routine 3-1 putout, and the runner was safe. An ensuing triple (and Mike Stanton relief appearance) erased the lead and Patterson's win. Had either Patterson or Johnson made the play (and I think NJ could've made it on his own), no runs would've scored.

Alfonso Soriano was nearly as dominant, but he, too, had a brain cramp, even as his third home run of the game sealed the win. All three homers came on fastballs, which were almost the last three fastballs he saw this series. (In last night's game, he got a steady diet of breaking balls and slop on the outside corner.) Soriano's homers were tremendous blasts, and the third one was an absolute monster, rising high over the deepest part of the gap to hit off the back wall -- one that he admired for a few moments before skipping into his tater trot.

But his brain cramp was especially costy. Before the Nats coughed up the lead, Soriano hit a one-out double and tried to steal third, pointlessly. He was thrown out by a mile. Think about the situation. Yes, you can score from third on an out, but is that worth the risk of an out and the loss of a runner? While Soriano's a tremendous base stealer, with Vidro, Johnson, and Guillen coming up, he's almost as likely to score from second as he is at third. When you steal third, you need to be successful something like 90% of the time, and that's assuming that the batters behind you are average. With better-than-average hitters, as was the case here, you need to be safe every time.

I love me some homers, but in the end, John Patterson gets the Whip. His brain cramp hurt, but I can't overlook how dominant he was before that. Soriano will have other days like this, even if they might not be as big, but it was John Patterson's dominance which forced Bobby Cox' hand. Had it been Ramon Ortiz throwing a shutout, do you think he would've pulled Smoltz so early, relying on his shaky pen?

  • Sunday's game was full of the same kinds of frustrations we had most of last season. Jose Guillen ripped a first-inning double way back into the right-center gap (when will he learn?) The Nats tried nursing that lead like it was a one-eyed kitten.

    Gary Majewski earns a Lame Duck for his heartless kitten-killing performance. His one inning of relief turned a thrilling 1-0 win into a demoralizing 3-1 loss. (Why is it that there seem to be more Braves fans in DC than at Braves playoff games?)

    It seems silly to say that someone with an ERA under 4 is shaky, but that's the sense I have. Majewski was almost criminally overused last season. Majewski started the year in the minors, and still pitched in 79 games and threw 86 innings. After Luis Ayala went down, Majewski was in the game seemingly every day, which can't be good for the ol' elbow. This season, he's been on an even greater pace: 94 games, 111 innings.

    Despite a mid-90s fastball, Majewski's not much of a strikeout pitcher. He K'd 5.2 per 9 last year, and is in the mid-4s this season. He's gotten by because he doesn't walk many, and he doesn't allow ANY home runs. In those 86 innings last year, he allowed just TWO homers. In 14.2 this year, he's allowed just as many.

    Is that a symptom of overwork? Is it just a statistical fluke early in the season? I hope it's the latter, and not the former.

  • Tony Armas had another effective outing, even as he didn't look too sharp. He was getting a ton of foul balls, which is always a bad sign with him. His velocity seemed down early, but as his velocity went up and the night got cooler, it seemed like he lost command of the pitches. Still, it's hard to argue with 6.1 shutout innings. The more I see him, the more I think Loaiza. He's not going to win us any games, but he's going to put us in a position where we CAN win the game more often than not.

  • Is it too early to wonder whether Zimmerman needs to spend some time in New Orleans figuring out how to recognize breaking pitches? Even if it is too early, you'd at least agree that he needs to be batting lower in the order, right?

  • Longtime readers know that I HATE HATE HATE the Intentional Walk (in 98% of cases), so it was especially agonizing seeing Bobby Cox do it twice, and have it work out both times!

  • The Nats have impressed me with their approach at the plate lately. For the most part, they seem to be waiting for a pitch to drive. Since it's essentially the same roster, I'm assuming that much of that is Mitchell Page's doing. Still, there are games, like last night's, that are agonizing to watch. John Thomson was on the ropes all night -- the Nats had 7 hits and 5 walks over his 6 innings of work, including 3 doubles, and could only score one!?

    Even if you don't like the outcome, there's something slightly encouraging in that.


    • I'm a good Washington Bureaucrat -- there's no deviation from the rules!

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/24/2006 3:04 PM  

    • To say that Robinson overuses his relief pitchers is an understatement. He knows how to burn out a good young arm.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/24/2006 3:15 PM  

    • I have a question perhaps someone can help me with. Why is that when a game is postponed early in the season like on Saturday night, that the league so often reschedules it for late in the season, as opposed to just making a doubleheader the next day? This has never made much sense to me.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/24/2006 3:24 PM  

    • maybe we wouldn't have to use Majewski so much if Eischen wasn't such a trainwreck. also, i think you're being way too hard on Armas. i thought he looked great last night. The Braves couldn't make any kind of solid contact on him until the 7th.

      By Blogger BRIAN, at 4/24/2006 3:26 PM  

    • On rainouts, I think it has more to do with the players. They don't really want to play, so they put them off for as long as possible, preferring to play consecutive days, instead of playing a day/night doubleheader.

      In this case, the Braves and Nats are playing the next night anyway, and they both had the day off, so it was convenient for them.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/24/2006 3:29 PM  

    • Coach -- I wasn't trying to be hard on Armas. I just don't think he was very sharp last night, even as the results were excellent.

      From my nosebleed seats, it seemed like he didn't have as much command of his pitches, even as the Braves batters weren't able to do much with those pitches.

      Also, keep in mind that the Braves lineup wasn't very good. True, they beat us, but other than Andruw Jones, there's not a star player out there.

      No Chipper, no Renteria, no Giles.... Take our three of our five best hitters out of the lineup and see how we do! :)

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/24/2006 3:31 PM  

    • Why blame Soriano for being caught stealing? He didn't decide that on his own, did he? Give the guy a break!

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/24/2006 4:26 PM  

    • Yes, he probably DID call that one on his own. I doubt Frank would give him the GO sign in that situation, ESPECIALLY with a left-handed batter batting.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 4/24/2006 4:45 PM  

    • Armas wasn't necessarily nailing his spot on every pitch, but he had a pretty solid strike-to-ball ratio, and when he missed he missed away from the strike zone. he had enough command not to hang anything over the plate, and i'll take that from Armas at this point.

      By Blogger BRIAN, at 4/24/2006 5:38 PM  

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