I’m old enough to not remember the last time the Nationals beat Roy Halladay but I am still young and internet savvy enough to find out that it was under the Expos banner in 2002 when the franchise did. Ten years and a foreign country apart. That is long ago, eh?
But the drought is no more, after last night’s 5-2 victory in Filthadelphia. The Nationals, led by Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond, climbed all over Doc early, giving Jordan Zimmermann precious runs that were being to feel to him as scarce as soap in the city that never washes. Coupled with Atlanta’s loss to the Reds, the Nats are now back in first, a slim 1/2 game lead to their name.
Game ball(s): Harper. Read after the game that he had watched video on Halladay from the past three years which had him zeroing in on the curve ball he laced for a two-run triple during his second at-bat. Talented and prepared. Giddyup!
Goat(s): Me, for benching Zimm in my fantasy league. I await the tomatoes with great shame.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: I don’t know who this power-crazed Ian Desmond is but I’m getting a little weak in the knees all the same.
Current Record: 26-17
So Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweeted yesterday that it sounded to him that Davey Johnson was going to give Roger Bernadina an extended shot at laying claim to left field. I don’t know how this latest chance will go for Roger, but at least we can say that the man is a good listener.
Just hours removed from Davey’s proclamation, Bernadina posted the type of game which has raised Nats fans hopes before, going 2 for 5, with a homer, three RBI and a stolen base in Washington’s 7-3 victory over Cincinnati. And the best thing is that the Nationals got out of the gates quickly, posting all seven of their runs in the first four innings. Though the Reds would threaten multiple times to get back into the game, they came up short when it mattered most, going 3 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
Game ball(s): Two homers in two nights plus the added sparkles against the Reds nets it for Bernadina.
Goat(s): Mike Leake of the Reds had a brutal start and the Reds couldn’t hit with men in scoring position. But I’m curious as to the fall-out from Bryce Harper’s Bam-Bam moment. I’m guessing it is just the case of a very competitive player having a bit of misfortune in taking out his frustrations at the end of a tough night. Still, Harper is only 19 so it is always worth watching how he handles adversity, which will be most telling of his maturation as a big leaguer.
Bryce Harper is still only 19: Danny Espinosa. I’ve been tough on Danny, and for good reason. So it was nice to see him launch one out of Great American Ball Park. Maybe that bandbox is just the place to get his bat going.
Current Record: 20-12
Ugh. You usually can’t say that an umpire or set of umpires cost your team a game, because most of the time, so many other plays unaffected by a bad call or calls decide the outcome. And in today’s 8-5 setback to the Reds in 11 innings, it probably is the case that the criminal blindness of home plate umpire Laz Diaz in the top of the first didn’t cost the Nationals the victory. Despite his union-guaranteed incompetence, Washington did fight back after falling behind 4-0 to tie the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the seventh. But ultimately, the Nats couldn’t get over the hump, snapping their winning streak at five games.
What was most disappointing about Diaz’s work behind the plate was that he had not one opportunity to call a third strike correctly, which would have ended the top of the first with no Reds crossing home plate, but two such chances. And he blew them both. First, with two on and two out, replay clearly showed Ross Detwiler had struck out Jay Bruce. Laz Diaz, like Colonel Klink, apparently saw nothing. And then again, with the bases loaded, replay clearly showed that he had punched out Ryan Ludwick. This was apparent to all, except again, Colonel Klink. Ludwick promptly deposited the next pitch into the stands for a grand slam.
Game ball(s): Ludwick, who when handed a gift, turned it into a grand slam which staked the Reds to an early 4-0 lead.
Goat(s): Laz Diaz, whose atrocious strike zone contributed greatly to the Nats setback.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Can’t give it to Ian Desmond despite his nice day at the plate because of his critical first-inning error, so it goes to Adam LaRoche, who continued his hitting roll going 2/5 with two runs driven in.
Current Record: 7-3
Well, you can say that the Nationals are pitching fairly well of late. How well you ask? In the last five games, including today’s 4-1 victory over the Reds, Washington has allowed just six runs, which translates to just 1.2 runs/game. Short of surrounding your pitchers with the Bad News Bears, you are going to win a lot of games pitching that well. And today, Edwin Jackson became the latest Nat to throttle the opposition, pitching a complete game, striking out nine and allowing just one run on two hits. Oh, and the normally inefficient Jackson did it throwing only 92 pitches, 67 for strikes.
Tomorrow, the Nationals go for the four-game series sweep over the Reds, with Ross Detwiler, the pitcher who started this great run, taking the hill against Mike Leake. Let’s hope we can send the Commies back to Cincinnati in utter humiliation.
Game ball(s): Jackson. He was dominant and efficient, which was just gravy, allowing the Nats bullpen to rest after last night’s 13-inning affair.
Goat(s): Reds hitters, who continued to struggle in the series, only mustering two hits and one run for the game.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jesus Flores. You can’t ask more from your backup catcher than to receive a gem like Jackson’s and go 3-3 with a walk and run driven in.
Current Record: 7-2
Twenty-two outs into last night’s game, it looked for all the world that the Nationals were barreling towards defeat, unable to do much of anything against Reds starter Bronson Arroyo. Seemingly wanting to flee Nationals Park like Bobby Petrino from a crash-scene, as quickly as each Nationals hitter came to the plate, he found himself slinking back to the dugout with haste. Then the genius of Dusty Baker struck.
Although Arroyo was only at 94 pitches, and had set down seven straight hitters, Dusty pulled him in favor of lefty Bill Bray with one out in the bottom of the eight. Now, I understand that the Nationals had sent up the left-handed hitting Chad Tracy to pinch-hit, so you might be inclined to say Dusty was just going by the book. Problem is (if you are a Reds fan), Dusty reads the Berenstain Bears Play Ball. As soon as Bray came into the game, Davey Johnson pulled Tracy back and replaced him with righty Xavier Nady, who promptly tied the game at 1-1 with a solo shot to left.
Four scoreless innings for both teams followed Nady’s heroics, which set the stage for Jayson Werth to drive in the winning run in the bottom of the 13th. It was interesting, no depressing, to read this morning that Werth’s walk-off hit was his first in a Nats uniform. Good for him. Last season was that rough.
Game ball(s): Werth. He was the only Nat with more than one hit and his second of the night drove in the game-winning run. That’s sort of important.
Goat(s): Thank you Dusty!
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Jordan Zimmermann. He was stellar for seven innings but walked away with a no-decision because Arroyo thoroughly stymied the Nationals for 7 and 1/3 innings. And he is on my fantasy team. Poor guy.
Current Record: 6-2
As little fun as it was to realize checking the box score when I got home how close Brad Lidge came to blowing Washington’s home opener against the Reds, in that brief moment, a smile managed to cross my face. In that flash of panic, a thought came to me. I have absolutely no control over the travails of Brad Lidge and when and how often he will puts Nats victories in peril this season. But as someone who has to write a headline every day, his name is heaven sent.
Writing musings aside, I have to say that at this juncture, with Drew Storen undergoing “minor”* elbow surgery, I would go with Henry Rodriguez as the Nationals closer. I know. He is prone to walks like Michael Moore is prone to cupcakes. But not much more than Lidge, who owns a career 4.17 bb/9. Rodriguez? 5.6. Granted, 5.6 is higher by a decent margin. And there is some risk in that. But at this point in their two careers, H-Rod also possesses more dominant stuff, an repertoire led by a fastball that can hit triple-digits, a good slider, and an improving change-up that averages 92.5 mph per FanGraphs and actually has been his best pitch in the early going (3.8 pitch value** on FanGraphs).
Meanwhile, Lidge is handicapped by being basically a one-pitch pitcher. His fastball hasn’t been dominant or evenly terribly good in years, with its velocity dropping from an average 95.8 mph in 2007 to 89.9 mph this season. Not surprisingly, 2007 was the last time Lidge’s fastball had a positive pitch value according to FanGraphs. So Lidge calls more and more upon his slider to get hitters out. While his slider is still a dominant pitch (2.08 career pitch value), unless you are Mariano Rivera, you can’t consistently get outs in the ninth inning against major leaguers with just one pitch.
So, if I had to choose between two pitchers with a penchant for walks, I would cast my lot in with the chap with a deeper and better arsenal capable of stranding those runners on the base paths. And that would be H-Rod.
Game ball(s): Gio Gonzalez. His debut with the Nats was well, poor. But his home debut made up for the clunker, as he dominated over seven innings, allowing only two hits and striking out seven in the process.
Goat(s): I think I nailed Lidge sufficiently to the cross above.
Bryce Harper is not as far off: Adam LaRoche, who once again delivered with two hits and two runs driven in.
Current Record: 5-2
*Show me a minor elbow surgery for a pitcher and I will show you a minor heart attack for a fat man.
**Pitch value is more of a descriptive statistic than a predictive one. It attempts to tell you what a pitcher’s best pitch is and the numbers I quote represent the number of runs saved over 100 pitches of the type mentioned. For more, read on here.