Sunday, May 02, 2010
What this just completed weekend in South Florida proved is that when Our Washington Nationals face a top of line starter--every facet of Washington's game must produce.
There can be no let down from D.C.'s Starter.
Nor can Jim Riggleman's bullpen throw fuel on an already burning fire.
And Our Manager's defensive lineup must make the routine plays in the field.
Simple as that.
Offensive production is only going to bring you back from the brink so far. All you have to do is take a look at a few of those April Philly games and those early 10-0 deficits against The Milwaukee Brewers & The Colorado Rockies to understand that.
But look at what happened Friday night at "Whatever They Call Their Stadium Now" Ballpark outside Miami when Washington put it all together: Scott Olsen pitched solidly again. The Bullpen was sharp. Defense was smooth and Washington's lineup jumped all over Ricky Nolasco on the mound for The Florida Marlins. And Ryan Zimmerman cranked out two deep home runs.
Washington played every facet of the game well against an average starter from The Fish.
Now--take a look at the past two days.
Promising Florida right-hander Chris Volstad rolled through Riggleman's lineup for nine complete innings Saturday night--barely touched. Craig Stammen didn't have it on the mound for Washington. And D.C.'s Defense took a total night off too (with two official errors)--except for Ryan Zimmerman. And Our bullpen didn't really help as well when Tyler Walker gave up two, two-run homers in relief.
Then, in this afternoon's South Florida finale, The Marlins' Josh Johnson--arguably one of the hardest throwing and best young right-handers in the game--managed his way through six hot and humid innings while Our Washington Nationals struggled to provide any offense. They scored some runs but Washington's starting pitching was poor again. (John Lannan got lit up pretty good). And Nats Killer Hanley Ramirez continued to unload on his favorite team to hit against with two more home runs--his second and third of this weekend series. Really, Washington had no chance because they couldn't KEEP themselves in the position to win.
If Our Washington Nationals are going to get over the top and break .500 consistently, D.C.'s Team will need to improve their play when facing a top starter on the opposing mound. In just five short weeks, Washington has already lost to Roy Halladay (twice), Ubaldo Jimenez, Mike Pelfrey, Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Silva and today--Josh Johnson again. All hot pitchers. At some point, Our Nats must turn that tide of defeat into victory. They must beat the best in the league--not just the average.
Ryan Zimmerman has always been able to raise his level of competition when the game is on the line. He's special, but Our Washington Nationals--as a team--must learn that trait as well.
Whether that improvement in game performance comes from the prospects of Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen arriving in Washington sometime over the next six weeks. Or, the return of John Lannan and Craig Stammen to their 2009 forms--Our Washington Nationals need to find THE WILL TO WIN collectively--both on the mound and in the field. The confidence that comes from success. The mettle re-enforced and taken to the diamond no matter who the opponent faced.
That perseverance which many times hides deficiencies.
To continue their improvement, Our Washington Nationals must always be poised while displaying that tenacity all winning teams develop. No question, Washington is still learning their way. And they are a team still searching for what their capabilities might be and what realistic goals can be reached. But they need to show more grit. Like Livan Does.
And they need to develop a backbone.
That doggedness which has helped Washington record a 13-12 record after 25 games--no laughing matter after two-consecutive 100-loss seasons. Yet, they seemingly are capable of doing better. Yeah people like to make fun and recite "First In War, First In Peace, and Last in The National League East" when it comes to baseball in the Nation's Capital, but if D.C.'s Team can display more toughness and togetherness--then their talents will follow.
As is sometimes stated, confidence may breed contempt, but it can also bring regard. The admiration developed from being respected. Ryan Zimmerman has already earned that esteem. Our Washington Nationals as a team need to find it.
Yogi Berra jokingly said: "90% of the game is half (50%) mental", but there is some truth to that statement. Knowing you can produce is half the battle. Our Washington Nationals will attain deserved deference only when they ultimately beat pitchers like Roy Halladay, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson--more consistently. And Washington will only earn league wide respect by defeating the very best in the game--not before.
And only then will they have developed that needed BACKBONE.
PS--Now, how about that Hanley Ramirez? The Florida All-Star Shortstop has hit 22 Career Home Runs against Washington pitching. Only outdistanced by The Philadelphia Phillies Ryan Howard--who has slammed out 34 taters against Our Washington Nationals (including one hit out against The Montreal Expos). You could never convince us that Hanley Ramirez deserved The 2006 National League Rookie Of The Year honor over Ryan Zimmerman. No way. But he's clearly developed into one of the best players in the game. Fearful--and fearless at the plate.
Just like Zimmy.
This Weekend's In Game Photos--Wilfredo Lee (AP)