Friday, August 11, 2006
Tough Road Ahead
We have all seen this coming for some time, the fact that the Washington Nationals are trying to compete with a Minor League Pitching Staff. Last night's 9-6 loss to the Florida Marlins drove the image home clearly.
There is no way the Nats will be competitive until they overcome the alarming amount of injuries to the pitching staff, and can put competitive Major League Pitchers on the mound.
Last night, Washington gamely fought back from a 4-0 deficit, eventually tie the game 6-6 in the 7th, only to see relievers Travis Hughes, Ryan Wagner and Saul Rivera fall apart under the pressure of runners in scoring position, 2 outs and 2 strikes on a batter-- batters that ended up knocking in the game winning and insurance runs that determined the outcome.
7 of the 12 pitchers in the Nats bullpen all played significantly for the New Orleans Zephyrs, Washington's top farm club, this season. These 7 players, collectively, do not have either, the experience, or talent to compete on the Major League Level. That's why when the Nationals got solid starting pitching over the previous few games, its necessary for them to pull out a win. Only Jon Rauch, Micah Bowie and Chad Cordero can be trusted late in games. This will not change for the remainder of 2006. Its going to be a difficult last 52 games this season.
On a better note, Alfonso Soriano possibly made his BEST OUTFIELD PLAY of the year in the top of the 3rd inning. A play that had everyone of the 21,304 in the crowd talking about for some time.
With one out, Dan Uggla roped a solid single to center off Pedro Astacio. Slugging third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, stepped to the plate and on a 1-1 pitched, looped a sinking liner down the left field line. Alfonso rushed in toward the line, looking like he had NO CHANCE to catch the ball. But, speed paid off for Soriano and he reached down with his glove AT THE VERY LAST SECOND, catching the ball off his shoelaces. Uggla, believing Number 12 had no chance had already reached 2nd base. Soriano, never stopping after the catch, immediately threw the ball OFF HIS WRONG FOOT (His left foot), slinging the ball sidearm toward first. Uggla had reversed course and was steaming back toward first. The ball bounced once and reached the streching Nick Johnson well in time to retire Uggla and end the inning.
Outfield Assist number 19 for Soriano was a FABULOUS ATHETIC PLAY!! This was a play that Soriano would have had trouble with earlier in the season. In April or May, he would not have made this catch. Alfonso has gained confidence, and is becoming a more complete ALL AROUND player. The STANDING OVATION from the crowd was WELL DESERVED.
Of Course, Soriano would also WHACK his 36th home run of the season in the 5th. A Towering Blast into the Mezzanine between section 433 & 434 in left. Soriano actually paused to watch the flight of the ball and smiled noticeably. Later, he would pay for his indulgence when Sergio Mitre would drill him in the thigh, leading off the 7th--which actually lead to the Nationals big comeback 4 run inning to tie the game. Only to see Ryan Wagner give it all away in the 8th.
Despite the nice comeback in the 8th, the Nationals also continued to fail in DRAMATIC fashion with runners in scoring position. In the first inning, Marlins Starter, Anibel Sanchez, could not find the plate. Sanchez walked Soriano, Felipe Lopez and Ryan Zimmerman on 14 pitches to load the bases with no one out. Nick Johnson comes to the plate--AND WITH SANCHEZ TOTALLY STRUGGLING--swings at the very first offering, a high inside fastball, fouling it off. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT!! Johnson would then pop out on the very same next pitch. Nick should know better.
Then, Austin Kearns would step up, take two balls, then swing at an inside fastball and ground to Cabrera at 3rd for a 5-4-3 inning ending, rally killing double play!! It was awful. And, the boos came out noticeably. Frank Robinson actually took off his cap, rubbing his head, as if he had a migraine. I think every Nats fan in attendance felt the same way.
The Marlins would open the scoring in the 2nd on a Josh Willingham single to left, Joe Borchard drive to deep left centerfield, scoring Willingham and a Reggie Abercrombie single up the middle to take a 2-0 lead. Florida would go up 3-0 in the 4th when Willingham crushed a Pedro Astacio 0-1 fastball over the left field fence, near the Geico sign, for a homer.
And, then go up 4-0 in the 5th on a Abercrombie infield single to short, Anibel Sanchez sacrifice bunt, Uggla walk and Cabrera 2 out, 2 strike line shot single up the middle.
But, the Nats would get on the scoreboard in the bottom half on Soriano's Blast, Lopez single to right, Zimmerman single to left, advancing Lopez to 3rd, and NICK JOHNSON, with one out, hitting a sacrifice fly to deep left, making the score 4-2.
Travis Hughes came in for the 7th, and was downright awful. Hughes hits Cody Ross with one out, then gives up a HOME RUN to Dan Uggla that was crushed over the dead centerfield wall. Ryan Church had no play on it. 6-2 Marlins.
But, in the bottom half of the 7th, The Natonals showed life, this time set up in the exact same situation as the 1st. Soriano was hit by Mitre, then walked Lopez and Z. Bases load, ZERO OUTS. This time, Nick Johnson would not fail, drilling a liner up middler off Brian Moehler scoring Soriano and Lopez. 6-4 Marlins. Austin Kearns would then bat, and ground a slow roller to Cabrera at 3rd. Miguel's only play was to step on 3rd. Everyone else safe, keeping the bases loaded. Ryan Church would step up and swing badly on a 3rd strike way off the plate, in the dirt. I like Church alot, but sometimes he comes to the plate with NO GAME PLAN. Every team throws him outside waste pitches with 2 strikes, he almost always swings at it.
But, Schneider would come up with 2 outs and actually come through, lining a shot up the middle, scoring Johnson, moving Kearns to 3rd, 6-5 Marlins.
Then, inexpicably,Damian Jackson ran onto the field to pinch run for Schnieder. Before he was officially announced, Frank Robinson started yelling at home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom and Jackson ran back off the field. Apparently, Damian, wasn't listening to what Robinson actually told him. Jackson would pinch hit later in the inning. Schneider staying in the game.
Darlye Ward then continued his fabulous play off the bench, by pinch hitting a double down the left field line, scoring Kearns to tie up the game at 6. But, Damian Jackson would kill the rally, striking out badly once again.
Unfortunuately, Ryan Wagner would give it all back in the 8th. A Willingham lead off single. One out bloop single by Olivo and very frustrating 2 out, 2 strike double down the left field line by Wes Helm put the Marlins up 8-6, a lead they would never relinquish. Saul Rivera would give up 1 run on 2 singles and a walk, making in 9-6 in the ninth. The Nats did get 2 runners on with 2 outs in the bottom half, Alex Escobar at the plate, he hit a nice liner up the middle on the shortstop side, but Hanley Ramirez SNARED it to kill the rally and giving the Nats their 64th loss of the season.
Good pitching always wins over the long haul. The Nationals certaintly don't have it.
August and September are going to be trying times for The Nationals and their Fans.