Monday, June 05, 2006

Nine Down, Eighteen To Go

Want to know how to feel about your team or how others feel? Check out the last-10 column in the standings. At 7-3, Nats fans are flying high. At 2-8, Rockies fans are cursing Jamey Carroll. There's only so much info our malformed pea brains can process. Sure, we realize that we're playing better now, but we forget how horrid we were for a time -- just a month ago, for example, we had a 2-8 stretch mostly against Atlanta and Cincinnati.

Still, the last few weeks are closer to the team we expected and there's no reason they can't play .500 ball point forward. Keep your goals reasonable though. Getting back to .500 should be the team's goal, and even that's going to be tough -- especially if there is any sort of fire sale.

Now covering the last two weeks....

Nats Record: 9-4 (and against some decent teams)
Overall: 25-32
Runs Scored: 70 over 13 games (5.38/g); 257 overall (12th/16 teams)
Runs Allowed: 56 over 13 games (4.30/g); 270 overall (8th/12 teams; second in the division)
I was stunned by the Runs Allowed numbers. If you look here, each team in the NL West has allowed fewer runs, but the Nats are better than every team in the NL East and Central except for the Mets and Cardinals. The Nats pitchers appear, on paper, to be better than they are. For now, I'll attribute some of that to the park factor, which is making the pitchers look better than they are and the hitters look worse.
Expected Record: 27-30. We're still two games behind the pace, but the wins this past fortnight have pushed things along nicely.

What's Good?
1) Winning Some Damn Games! The Nats have now won 4-straight series, the first time that's happened since, oh, say, last June?

2) Scoring Some Freakin' Runs! In this stretch, the Nats scored 8 or more runs 5 times. They had only done that 7 times before this last two-week stretch. Overall, the offense is still pitiful (12th in runs; 15th in average; 13th in on-base; last in SB%; 9th in walks; 7th in GIDP; 11th in extra-base hits.) But some of that, I think, is park-based illusion.

2a) Royce Clayton!? Gotta give the li'l man some due. I hate when people attribute his success to moving up to the two-spot in the lineup -- instead of it just being a random hot stretch -- but something seems to have clicked. He's been hitting a TON of groundballs, and for some reason, they've found holes these past two weeks. .312/ .358/ .333 isn't going to win an MVP award, but it ain't gonna hurt the team!

3) Starting Pitching! Exclusing Zach Day's season-ending start, only one Nats starter had an ERA above 4 during this stretch (Armas with a 4.08 ERA). We don't have a John Patterson from last year -- the kind of guy who'll dominate a game for 7 or 8 innings) -- but we do have a bunch of Loaiza's. They'll keep you in the game for 6-7 innings, allowing just a few runs, waiting for the offense to kick it into gear. O'Connor, Ortiz and Armas all struck out better than 7 batters per 9, which is a wonderful sign and indicitive of the quality of the stuff they lobbed up there these last few games.

What's Bad?
1) The Black Hole. Nats' centerfielders have been pathetic this year, hitting a combined .219/ .303/ .363. Marlon Byrd has been terrible and had another bad fortnight, going .167/ .219/ .367. Damian Jackson had a mini hot stretch and cranked out some homers, but the position still is in flux. In right, Mike Vento hasn't hit much, but thanks to some IBBs, he's looked more respectable than he's actually been: .235/ .381/ .294.

2) The Bullpen. Quietly, it's been shaky again. It's just that the Nats offense has made sure the runs they've allowed have been relatively meaningless. Majewski allowed 5 runs in just 9 innings; Rauch allowed 4 in 6+; Joey Eischen's fork finally stuck, etc. Only Cordero and Bray went unscored upon.

3) Baserunning. It's been terrible for two years now and no matter which coach is manning the first-base box, runners are caught stealing or getting picked off. With as few baserunners as this team gets, they just cannot afford to lose runners. The Nats were caught 6 times and only safe 5 times. That's dreadful. When you try to 'make things happen', often the only that you make happen is a quicker end to an inning.

Game O' The Week(s)
5/31's 3-2 nail-biter over Philly was pretty damn memorable. Having lost the first two games of the series, the Nats sent Livan Hernandez to the mound. He pitched effectively, yielding only two solo homers. Alfonso Soriano ripped a two-run homer (what else?) and later added the game-winning RBI single, driving in Mike Vento. But the real excitement came in the bottom of the 8th. With that same slim one-run lead, the ancient Mike Stanton (Did you know he made his MLB debut in 1975!? -- yes, that's only partially a joke), carved through the Phillies modern-day Murderer's Row, striking out Chase Utley, Bobby Abreu and Ryan "Don't Call Me Thomas" Howard. They hit 74 homers last year, but not that day! Cordero made things interesting in the 9th, but held on, as he does much more often than not!

MVP Award
Soriano, DUH! Sure, he hit 6 homers and had 13 RBI in 13 games, but what have you done for me lately? Oh yeah.... two homers, one a grand slam yesterday. Hmm... but, aha! He only hit 5 doubles and only hit .404 for the fortnight! And he struck out 10 times. TEN TIMES! I don't see any sacrifice bunts in his ledger either. What kind of player is that? Harumph.

CY Young
Ramon Ortiz!? 20.2 IP with a 2.61 ERA'll do it every time. Somehow he got his strikeout rate up to 7.6 per 9 IP, which explains his success. Ortiz explained that he's stopped trying to throw as hard. Earlier in the season, he was sometimes getting his fastball into the mid 90s. Often, the harder a pitch is thrown, the straighter it is. Perhaps by dialing back on his pitches he's gaining some movement and deception. (Remember Billy Koch's straight-as-a-string 99MPH fastball?)

LVP Award
Brian Schneider was truly terrible, but his game-winner on Saturday's game gives him immunity for the week. Marlon Byrd's terrible offense wins the prize though, and his .167 average seems to have earned him a temporary ride on the pine.

Joe Horgan Award
Zach Day had an ugly start, but this one goes out to the man for whom the award will likely be named in the future, Joey Eischen. True, he only pitched 2.2 innings. But, somehow, he managed to walk six batters, compiling a 6.75 ERA over his final two weeks.


  • Thank you! I had not located the other Mike Stanton, but I do remember him serving up Dan Ford's 3rd home run of the game in the Kingdome 20 July, 1983. You can look it up.

    By Blogger Bote Man, at 6/05/2006 1:03 PM  

  • Just a quick correction -- the Nats haven't won four straight series. They lost 2 out of 3 to the Phillies on May 29-31.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/05/2006 1:04 PM  

  • You're right. I'm an idiot! :)

    I even wrote about how they were trying to sweep earlier....

    As punishment, I'm withholding my paycheck and donating it to your favorite charity.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 6/05/2006 1:21 PM  

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