Sunday, May 14, 2006

Fickle Finger Of Fate

Baseball's a funny game. You can lose a game in the most horrid way imaginable, then come back the next day and completely dominant. Anyone who talks about there being momentum in baseball is an idiot who needs to have these last few games thrown in their face.

The average game has 70-80 'plays'. We saw, this weekend, two games turn on just two plays. Two out of 150. That's how teams win. That's how teams lose.

Let's start with the good stuff.

  • Sunday's game was one of those that makes Pythagoras smile, an 8-1 drubbing of the Braves. But the play that decided it was one that won't really show up in the boxscore. You look at it, and it says "E - A LaRoche (2, ground ball)." That doesn't tell you anything though.

    Nick Johnson hit a realllly slow roller towards first baseman Adam LaRoche. LaRoche fields it, turns his back and slowly walks towards the bag. Nick Johnson, who was running hard down the line, sees LaRoche turn away and finds another gear, beating the walking LaRoche to the bag. (VIDEO) If you watch it, you can hear someone yell "Tag Him!" which is all LaRoche needed to do. For some reason he peeled off, opening up the door just enough for the Nats to get their foot in it.

    And once their foot was in it, they were storming through it, getting the kind of clutch two-out hits that have elluded them since last July. They had the kind of rally that they had last May, which made the first part of the year so much fun. Jose Guillen blooped a double down the left-field line. Ryan Church singled hard to right, then took off, stealing second base easily. Ryan Zimmerman smacked the ball to left bringing home the freshly stolen Church. Four runs scored, all because of LaRoche's gaffe, and because Nick Johnson decided to find another gear.

    One play. And it was enough.

  • Tony Armas deserves special mention for his fabulous outing, for which he wins a Majority Whip: seven shutout innings with six Ks and just three hits. He was consistently getting his fastball into the 90s, where it's effective enough to blow by hitters. You cannot succeed in the major leagues unless your stuff can get by hitters. While that's not always a function of arm speed, it seems that the extra juice is the key for him.

    One thing to watch though. He threw 119 pitches, which considering the great lengths they've gone to be careful with him could lead to problems in his next start or two. On 4/28, he threw 110 pitches against the Cardinals, and was bombed out of his next start by the Marlins in the third inning. It could just be a fluke, but given his arm history, it's something to watch.

  • Saturday night's game was another gut punch. With a two-run lead, Lame Duck Winner Chad Cordero lobbed fastball after fastball which the Atlanta Braves sprayed all over the park. When he finally threw a slider to Jeff Francouer, he hung it, leaving it to spin over the heart of the plate. Francouer might be having a rough year, but he's not going to miss a slider down Pennsylvania Avenue, and he ripped it to left for the game-winning Grand Slam. One play, but crushing.

    The BPG Forum is making a lot of Cordero's struggles, to which I say, what struggles? Yeah, he stunk up the park, but he's always had difficulties with Atlanta. Whether it's scouting, familiarity, or just pure dumb luck, they've got his number. In 24 innings against Atlanta, he's given up 16 runs and 6 homers, for a 4.88 ERA. Cordero struggled out of the gate, but he's been our most effective pitcher over the last two weeks (Game Log), and his two very valuable shutout innings against the Reds were lost in bullpen's later failings.

    Cordero is what Cordero is, a pitcher who doesn't throw especially hard with excellent control of his fastball and a nifty little slider. He doesn't strike a ton of batters out, and he's a little better than average with King batters. He's a pretty extreme flyballer, and from time to time, they're going to carry out of the park. We didn't notice it as much last year, because Wilkerson or Church were running those balls down in the gaps. This year, those flyballs aren't being hit at RFK (damn the luck!), they're being hit in Atlanta (I'm not sure that Frenchy's homer would've been out at RFK) or they're being hit in Houston (where I'm sure Morgan Ensberg's wouldn't have).

    He's not all that different than last year. It's just that some balls are finding the seats.

  • Friday night's game was completely forgettable, and except for those Braves fans who were attending their first major league game that night, no one's going to remember a damn thing about it five years from now. The Nats lost 6-2, but were never as close as the score seems. John Smoltz pitched a complete game, just giving up a homer to Zimmerman.

    Ramon Ortiz wins a Lame Duck for yet another stinktastic outing where he gave up six runs and struck out only one batter. I keep hammering it home, but he cannot succeed unless he strikes out more batters. (Of course his pitching's proving my point for me!)

    I know the Nationals are hurting for pitching, but we're at the point where they need to think about cutting bait with him. He's pitched 40 innings with a 6.30 ERA. Opponents are batting .329 against him. Think about that. He's walked 17, meaning almost one every other inning, and he's struck out just 14, meaning almost one every time I say something insightful. Kyle Denny, Billy Traber and Steve Watkins (not to mention the recently signed Nelson Figueroa) are pitching capably in New Orleans. Certainly one of them could do better than 6.30, right?

    You're paying Ortiz whether you start him or not. He's a sunk cost, and it's clear he's not getting better. Dump him. Bowden doesn't mind shuffling hitters around when they're struggling. Let's see him do the same with the pitching.

  • Our friends at TP, who care about the work they produce, have a better recap than me, and with fewer words! Plus, they have a contest! Ooooh! Contests!


    • Sure... It can't hurt.

      But I'm not sure if it'd help. In the offseason, I had suggested Armas for the bullpen because I thought that the extra MPH he could get from going all out instead of pacing himself would allow him to succeed. (Little did I know rehab did that on its own!)

      Ortiz is already throwing mid-90s. Speed isn't going to help him, and I'm not sure that rest is going to add bite to his breaking pitches. He just seems like he's done. Some days we'll get lucky and those liners get hit to the fielders. Some days they don't.

      I'm just not sure that I want to find out which day it's going to be with runners on base.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 5/14/2006 10:01 PM  

    • Buck says the Yankees sign him to a 3-year deal, which they rue before the end of the first spring training!

      The Yankees signed Armas, but then traded him to the Red Sox for Mike Stanley, for no real apparent reason -- other than that Steinbrenner liked Stanley.

      Armas then went on to Montreal as one of the two big chits (Pavano was the other) for Pedro Martinez.

      And now Pavano finds himself in a Yankees uniform, even if he never takes the mound.

      By Blogger Chris Needham, at 5/14/2006 10:59 PM  

    • Regarding Basil and his "Anaheim or whatever" comment: I would love it if we could get the Nats blogosphere in general to join in the admittedly small revolt against this atrocious name change. They play in Anaheim, in Orange County, in a stadium called Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The only thing LA about them is a portion of their TV revenues. So I vote for calling them Anaheim and leaving it at that. (Plus its easier, you say LA and everyone thinks Dodgers, including Angels fans).

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/15/2006 1:34 AM  

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