Washington, 29-42 (.408), W-3
Several times during the last series, Manny Acta made it abundantly clear that he looks at American League baseball with the same scorn that, say, a oenophile might reserve for Manischewitz. "It's a different ballgame," he happened to say yesterday, and after talking for a few minutes about how managers get off easy not having to worry about double-switches and such, he finally came to the point: "It's a very different league, and for us, it's like I'm catching a break, basically. I'm a big fan of the National league. I really like all of the strategy more."
I only mention this to point out that Washington needn't like the league to take advantage of it. That's right -- the Nationals have won three straight. They swept the Mariners on the road. Out-scored 'em 18-10.
My top eight reasons for why it happened?
1. Kory Casto: Without one pinch-hit swing, the Nationals would have struggled to close the game out yesterday. Instead, they got a great moment. Pinch-hitting for Wily Mo? Yup, that's what you call astute management.
2. They didn't let mistakes bleed into meltdowns: The Nationals of old, circa March 30 - June 12, would have absolutely destructed in the third inning yesterday when Felipe Lopez made two errors (on one play!) and Elijah Dukes dropped a fly ball. Those miscues, though, only gave the M's one run -- thanks entirely to Tim Redding, who basically had to record six outs in the inning. "Three outs is tough enough," Redding said.
3. Dmitri Young is back in the lineup: A respectable team needs a clean-up hitter not named Aaron Boone. That's no knock against Boone, but Young -- especially now that he's starting to get hot -- gives protection to Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge in front of him. Speaking of which...
4. 1-2-3: Yeah, that's the top of the Nats' lineup. It has some stability now. Guzman, Dukes, Milledge. They're playing every day. Over three days, the Nationals got 35 hits, and at least 10 in every game. (Team average against Seattle: .313.) Guzman only went 4-for-15 against the M's, but Dukes was 4-for-11 (with three walks, one HBP and two stolen bases) and Milledge was 6-for-14.
5. Seattle stinks: That helps, too. The Mariners are the worst team in baseball, though at least to judge by reaction in these parts, fans didn't quite realize as much until this weekend. Losing three to Washington at home creates a special kind of ignominy. The kind that makes people scream for managerial firings. Here's an excerpt from today's Seattle Times article, written by Larry Stone: "Just when it seemed that the Mariners' nightmare season couldn't sink any lower, the Washington Nationals limped into town. ... Whether heads will roll -- in the form of team executives, manager John McLaren or struggling players like Richie Sexson, who sat out Sunday -- remains to be seen."
6. The middle relievers: This series, the bullpen pitched 10 innings and allowed one, yes, one run. That's a 0.90 ERA. Both Saul Rivera and Luis Ayala, to the appreciation of Nationals' management, looked reliable in close games. Jon Rauch had two saves.
7. Extra-base hits: Washington only had one homer all series, but over the last two games of the weekend, the lineup pounded 10 doubles. At one point, Ronnie Belliard and Felipe Lopez even hit them back-to-back. That's when you know things are going well.
8. R.A. Dickey: Listen, I like the dude's name. Sounds like he should have played baseball for a barnstorming team in 1912. It also sounds like he should have a resplendent mustache. Instead, he just has a subpar knuckleball, which is the primary reason the Nats won the first game of this series. That's why Dickey makes the list, too. He just beats out Tyler Clippard, who I'd probably put at No. 9, but I have to go catch a flight to Minny.
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