A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Has The Ship Been Righted?

The opening game of our series with Arizona is in the books, and perhaps for the first time this season, the Nationals won with sound baseball.

In all of the previous wins, we’ve seen the extreme ways a team can win: flawless pitching, hitting barrages, improbable  comebacks – and don’t get me wrong, those wins were fun to watch and demonstrated some of the important characteristics that a team has to have.

What we hadn’t seen this year was a game where we took the lead early, held it all game, and protected a one-run lead in the ninth inning. Until last night.

This game was precisely the sort of game I’ve been waiting to see from the Nats – an unremarkable, fundamentally sound game. The reason is, almost all of baseball is comprised of games like this. You don’t often go down six runs in the first inning, and then come back to win 11-9… or get complete games from a 23 year-old starter… or hit four home runs in a game. The Nats wins this season  have been precisely this type, and while they’re fun to watch, they’re not the thing that a successful season is made of. Last night’s win was different.

Also important was the fact that the Diamondbacks are a team we should beat. They’re suffering from internal turmoil, having just let Bob Melvin go as their manager. They’re also a team of Nationals cast-offs – many of whom we’d like to see do well, and the occasional slacker-malcontent.

The Nats made giant-killers of every team in the National League East in the month of April, as they stumbled out of the gate. But just as the Nats played the rest of the division, they played each other, too… and now that we’ve bothered to look up and see where we are twenty-seven games into the season, we see that the rest of the division has been in a four-way bar fight with each other, and they haven’t put any distance between them and us. As we wake up on Saturday morning, we find the Nats six games out of first with most of the season ahead of us. The Nats are 5-5 over the last ten games, and 4-1 over the last five… and we have a runner on first with one out in the 11th inning against the Astros… and as the home team, I like our chances.

Am I suggesting that all is well with the Nats? Absolutely not! The Nats lead the majors in errors, and they continue to make plenty of miscues in the field. The bullpen is struggling, though recent moves to bring more veteran arms into the ‘pen seem to be helping… and of course it helps to have Joe Beimel back.

There’s a lot to be happy about with the Nats right now. They’re hitting a ton, their young starters are doing well (for the most part), and the bullpen seems to be settling down a little bit. They’re sure fun to watch – it is just a shame for most of you on the east coast that they are playing out here on the left coast. They make for entertaining viewing during dinner here in Alaska.

… and then there’s this: Ryan Zimmerman extends his hitting streak to twenty-six games, and probable future Nationals player Stephen Strasburg threw a no-hitter for the San Diego State Aztecs last night.

Saturday Night At Safeco

I don’t remember if it was the third or fourth inning, but at some point during last night’s game, I came to the realization that Tyler Clippard was breezing through the Mariner’s lineup, getting by with ten to fifteen pitches an inning. Except for a couple of solo homers in the fourth – and yes, solo homers are just a base hit or a walk away from a game-busting run deluge – it was a very efficient and serviceable performance.

Add to that a 9-4-5 putout on Ichiro’s first inning leadoff double-stretched-into-an-out, some very good relief pitching, some timely double plays, and Jesus Flores’ two-run homer, and the Nats actually looked like a major league team last night. The “Glass Half Empty Department” points out, however, that the Nats were playing the Mariners, so one shouldn’t get too excited about it all.

To  be sure, there are a number of reasons to be skeptical of last night’s performance. While Clippard pitched into the seventh inning, he left with no outs and two on. Saul Rivera came on, and nearly walked Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt, trying to bunt, took three pitches to get ahead 3-0. The crowd seemed to sense a big inning coming on, and now Rivera had no room for error. Rivera followed his first three balls with two strikes. At 3-2, Betancourt attempted to bunt again, and sent a foul tip into Flores’ mitt for a strikeout. The next batter, Ichiro, grounded into a very uncharacteristic 4-6-3 double play. So the Mariners seventh went single, walk, strikeout-while-bunting, double play. As Craig Ferguson would say “Remind you of anyone?” The Mariners faithful started to head for the exits.

From there, it was just a matter of getting the next six outs, a task that was very easily handled by Ayala in the eighth and Rauch in the ninth.

Is This Anything?

Filed under: Games,Personnel,Players — Tags: , , , , , , — Wigi @ 11:23 pm May 28, 2008

David Letterman does a bit periodically where he brings on some bombasitc act – usually accompanied by The Hula Hoop Girl and The Grinder Girl – and after thirty seconds of watching this act, Dave and Paul discuss whether what we just watched was “anything.”

Last night’s game was a lot like that bit. The Nats won 6-4, against a team that is uncannily like themselves. Odalis Perez pitched into the seventh inning, giving up three runs. Sanches was a little shaky coming out of the bullpen, but Ayala and Rauch did what they are supposed to do, with a hold and a save, respectively.

Oh yeah, that catcher guy, Jesus Flores - He hit a grand slam.

I watched the Padres feed on MLB.TV, so I didn’t see or hear this directly, but a reader of “Nationals Journal” pointed out that Paul Lo Duca was substituting in the MASN booth, and said:

Posted by: mrm0to | May 28, 2008 11:03 PM

So the Nats won. They got good starting pitching. The bullpen allowed a few inherited runners to score, but it also got a hold and a save. Our formerly AAA catcher got a single and a grand slam, and is hitting over .300.

Is this anything?