Sunday, June 20, 2010

They Need To Get Their Groove Back

When Cristian Guzman beautifully palmed slapped home plate in the bottom of the 4th inning, Our Washington Nationals had scored a run for the 1st time in their last 19 frames played. "Guzzie's" electrifying dash from third base on a slow roller hit toward first base by Adam Dunn had JUST BEATEN the toss home by The Chicago White Sox Paul Konerko. The game tying score which found another strong crowd of 31,763 at Nationals Park--on their feet cheering--again for the home side.

Most everyone rooting for Washington really needed this.

Because except for Stephen Strasburg's third start to his Major League Career this past Friday night (an eventual defeat in the loss column), there has not been much fun in NatsTown this Father's Day Weekend. In fact, zero Curly "W's" since last Sunday in Cleveland. Washington's offense has gone mostly silent of late. The starting pitching staff has needed to be perfect to win. With D.C.'s team now on the board in the bottom of the 4th, "The Guz" had actually brought renewed hope. Even more so after D.C.'s Team continued their upward trend by putting two additional runs on the board moments later against The Sox Freddy Garcia.

It appeared Our Washington Nationals had finally gotten their groove back.

At least until John Lannan returned to the mound in the top of the 5th inning.

For the third straight start, Our Number 31--Washington's most dependable starter in the first two seasons of play on South Capitol Street--allowed the opposition to get back into a game. He had given up the lead again. Yes, he had given it right back. Although in this particular instance, The Chicago White Sox didn't necessarily pound Lannan, but John left far too many pitches up in the hitting zone and was hit all over and around Nationals Park. The ChiSox scoring the game tying and and go ahead runs that became the game deciding moments.

The big letdown the majority on hand at Nationals Park really do not want to see.

Having fought back to take a two run advantage in the bottom of the 4th, Our Washington Nationals found themselves on the disadvantaged side now--two runs down. The heartbreaking and four run turnaround that washed out the promise witnessed less than 15 minutes earlier after Our Number 15 had maneuvered his left hand down and around Chicago's catcher--Ramon Castro's--sweeping tag. And it's worth repeating, no one hustles on the base paths more than Cristian Guzman. He knows how to cut corners and make every single step important. He understands how to beat the tag.

Unfortunately, his thoughtful gamesmanship in the bottom of the 4th had mostly been long forgotten by the bottom of the 5th.

Chicago's counter assault against John Lannan had withered the enthusiasm of the assembled crowd. When Our Washington Nationals couldn't answer with their own offensive at-bats over the final five innings--this once large and vocal following dissipated ever so slowly. Many probably heading off to special Father's Day celebrations of their own with family--as Washington's Baseball Playing Family could not muster any further fight.

D.C.'s offensive woes continuing while another defeat was recorded in the record books. Number 39 after 70 games on the schedule.

Our Washington Nationals are not playing well. Little production from the top of Jim Riggleman's lineup. Virtually no power for Our Manager's middle of the order. Now, losers of six straight and eight out of their last nine--their near freefall putting a damper on the early excitement garnered in April & May. But, the problems are not all offensive. Washington's starting pitching is taking a serious hit out there on the mound. Stephen Strasburg has been better than expected. J.D. Martin and Livan Hernandez OK. Everyone else--hit pretty hard.

In fact, it's sort of hard to believe that John Lannan, once considered a stopper and ace of this staff--is now struggling to keep his spot in the rotation.

Hitters go into slumps. Ryan Zimmerman looks mighty uncomfortable at the plate right now.

Pitchers have a series of bad games. Our Number 31 has many wondering whether he is physically and mentally OK?

And errors are made in bunches. The results of which give opposing teams more outs and more chances to score runs over the past few weeks.

The very fact Our Washington Nationals are not playing well as a team, the reason, more than anything else, for their sudden collapse.

You can't keep leaving runners in scoring position.

You have to score at least one run to win--usually more.

You can't keep giving up every lead from the mound--once you do have the advantage.

And you can't make key errors (physical or mental) at the most inopportune time.

Looking to get their groove back in the bottom of the 4th this Sunday afternoon, Washington only found out their direction is still lost. A course correction still needed. A fresh route to be re-programed and navigated.

Final Score from Nationals Park where Father's Day spent with family at a Major League Baseball in the Nation's Capital did not turn out well for D.C.'s fans: The Chicago White Sox 6 and Our Washington Nationals 3. The second consecutive sweep administered by an American League Central Team (The Tigers earlier this week in Motown the other) was shocking in that many had figured this portion of the Inter-league schedule would be easier for Washington's Team. The competition supposedly not up to the level of the National League rivals seen so far in 2010.

Yet it was.

As so pointedly stated this weekend when The ChiSox defeated Washington in all three games played, you can never put a single Curly "W" in the books before the final out is recorded--because you most always have to PLAY WELL to win.

Our Washington Nationals have not done that of late. They need to get their groove back. They need more players to step up and be difference makers. And they need to change the current downward course of their season beginning this Monday night at Nationals Park when The Kansas City Royals come to town. If not, there needs to be consideration whether some changes should be made and can be made--on the Major League Roster--as the trading deadline approaches in less than six weeks.

P.S.: Amazingly, Monday night will be the very first time The Royals and Nationals have ever met since baseball returned to Washington in 2005. How after each team has played nearly 900 baseball games in the past five plus years--is this their first meeting since The Montreal Expos were still in existence? Just like The White Sox--who thankfully just left town.

Game Notes & Highlights

John Lannan allowed 11 hits and five runs in just four plus innings pitched. His ERA ballooned to 5.75. He does not look anything like the confident pitcher seen over the past few seasons. When he needs to make an important pitch, it's almost always up in the strike zone. He was actually saved a few times by his defense today when Nyjer Morgan made a nice running catch on a deep fly to right center off the bat of Rookie Chicago Daylan Viciedo in the top of the 2nd. And when Wil Nieves pounced on a bunt attempt by Freddy Garcia moments later in the same frame--after Gordon Beckham had singled--and beautifully turned two by throwing to Ian Desmond crossing 2nd base--who threw to Adam Dunn at 1st Base for The Defensive Play of This Game.

Something's just not right with John Lannan and Our Washington Nationals need to find out what that is. He's better than shown.

Miguel Batista replaced Lannan and pitched three scoreless innings--but not before he allowed one of John's inherited runners to score on a double play after allowing two more singles himself. Chicago scored their final run off Drew Storen in the top of the 9th. The sight of Alex Rios knocking a hard slapped grounder up the middle with two outs scoring Omar Vizquel for The White Sox 6th and final run--also found Storen turning dejectedly around in front of the mound and slapping his mitt in disgust. He was pissed at himself.

Rios knocked in two runs today. He also scored two runs and had three hits. Virtually given away by The Toronto Blue Jays in mid-2009, after years of unfulfilled promise, Alex Rios is having a renaissance year and looking more like the player everyone first envisioned when he came to the Major Leagues.

After Adam Dunn reached first base safely on his ground ball that scored Cristian Guzman--Josh Willingham, Roger Bernadina and Wil Nieves all singled to bring home what became Washington's final two tallies for this game. Guzman, Willingham and Bernadina with two hits apiece today. Ryan Zimmerman is really in a hitting slump. Zero for four today at the plate, after striking out four times in as many appearances Saturday. 1-11 for this series and 4-34 over his last nine games. Zimmy looks like he is pressing at the plate. And getting himself out.

Question: With things not going well offensively, why does Michael Morse not get the call to either spot start more often in the outfield or pinch hit with the game on the line? The man has contributed more times than not during his limited playing time. Why not now when his bat is needed? Very puzzling.

The first 20,000 into Nationals Park on Father's Day received a special NatsTown Travel Mug. Section 218 regular Anna brought her Dad, Leon, to celebrate the special day. Then got her groove on a little bit later to everyone's great enjoyment.

Throughout the game, players for Our Washington Nationals were shown on the HDTV Scoreboard giving Father's Day wishes and thanks. And during the game, players for both teams and the umpires wore blue wristbands and blue ribbons on their uniforms to help get the word out about Prostate Cancer Awareness for men. Screech wore a special blue cap too.

Of course, this Sunday could not have been a better day weather wise. Just a beautiful day to take pictures around the South Capitol Street Ballpark. During the 6th inning, I headed up to Gallery Level to take in the views.

In fact, the afternoon so nice, Teddy decided to take the 4th Inning Presidents Race off. While his Rushmore Friends ran the usual race, Teddy--dressed in his new Number 26 Cabana Shirt--was fanned and taken care of by some NatPack ladies. Tom actually wining the race while Abe seemed to be miffed at Teddy relaxing with his margarita.

Teddy always taking a break, which some father's didn't do this afternoon by taking up Our Washington's Nationals offer for all Dad's in attendance to Run The Bases with their kids as a Father's Day Present. Many, many did so. Mom's were allowed the same opportunity this past Mother's Day Sunday in May.

And finally, considering all the hype surrounding Stephen Strasburg after his performance over three Major League starts, it's probably not a surprise to see a specially made Red Curly "W" Jersey on a fan sitting just below us in Section 127. Strasburg Uniform Number 37 with "The Messiah" as the name on the back.

Today's InGame Photos--Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)
All Other Photos--Nats320--All Rights Reserved

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