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The Pleasures of the September Grind

As a kid, I always loved NHL playoff series, if only because by the end -- Game 5... Game 6... Game 7! -- familiarity and contempt were indistinguishable, and those third-line grinders on the New York Rangers felt like enemies who'd haunted you for years. Arghh, Jeff Beukeboom.

Baseball, at any juncture, never quite musters the same sweat-soaked hostility, and that's true even more so for the Nationals, whose recent beardedness (see pic) has nothing to do with postseason hopes. That said, Washington is now nine games into a 12-game stretch that replicates -- at least on the basis of familiarity -- one of those epic grinds. On Sept. 4, the Nats began a three-game series against the Marlins. On Sept. 8, they began a three-game series against the Phillies. This weekend, they finished off a three-game series -- with 5½ hours of rain delays -- against the Marlins. Now, they have three more games awaiting against the Phillies. So there you have it: 12 games ... two teams. And both are atop the NL East.

So far on this journey, the Nats are a pleasant 4-5. Given that they had a .277 winning percentage against NL East foes before Sept. 4, this has got to count as a pointed success. Plus, the Nationals limited Hanley Ramirez to three home runs in his latest six games, rather than the usual seven or eight. If you're wondering about the over-under on Ryan Howard's grand slam total between Tuesday and Thursday, it's 1½.

By the time teams are playing one another for the 16th or 17th or 18th time in a year, the familiarity itself becomes part of the challenge. Which is why John Lannan's five-inning, one-run outing on Sunday (cut short because of a rain delay) looked so impressive. Here he was, trying to pick up his first win since Aug. 5, and he was doing it against a team that had already seen him three times earlier. Speaking before the game about Lannan's late-season efforts, Jim Riggleman assured that his lefty's arm was still fresh; physical fatigue wasn't a factor. But mentally, he said, September can be a different story.

"It's a grind," Riggleman said. "The baseball season, for a pitcher, is a real grind. You're gonna try to go out there and give your club a couple hundred innings, and now, you face the same team so much, they get so many looks at you, you've really got to keep tweaking your approach to these hitters. So, he was making great adjustments and maybe hitters have made some adjustments to him, and it'll be a cat-and-mouse game throughout his career. Because he's going to face these guys for years."

The Phils and Nats don't begin their series until Tuesday, but right now, the Marlins are 6½ games back of first, and time is running short for a playoff chase. Which is just fine by me. Cody Ross is my new Jeff Beukeboom. Sanity now calls for some time apart.

By Chico Harlan  |  September 14, 2009; 8:32 AM ET
 
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Next: Ian Desmond, on His Toes

Comments

I'll take the Under on Howard's GS. I think he gets 8 RBI's in the 3 games without a single GS, however.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | September 14, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Good one Chico! Totally agree about the Sept grind, however it ain't a grind if your still in the hunt, then its a sprint. Back in 05 (did I really say that?), with the Nats hanging in at around 5 games out those last three weeks of the season against NL East foes was really exciting. Oh someday too the grind will be gone and the hunt will be on. Can't wait.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | September 14, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

July 3, 2005: Nats reach 50 wins, with only 31 losses.

August 9, 2006: Nats reach 50 wins, with 63 losses (more than double the 2005 loss total).

August 4, 2007: Nats reach 50 wins, with 60 losses.

August 29, 2008: Nats reach 50 wins, with 85 losses.

September 13, 2009: Nats reach 50 wins, with 93 losses (exacly three times as many losses as in 2005).

My prediction: In 2010, Nats will reach 50 wins before August 15.

Posted by: NoVaSnow | September 14, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

There are many things to enjoy about this post, not the least of which is that it links to the Washington Times for a picture of John Lannan's beard. That, along with the fact that you had to go to the Wash Times to get an article about Saturday's Opera in the Outfield event (the Post's society column mention doesn't count), certainly illustrates what has been said her for years -- coverageislacking.

Posted by: Section222 | September 14, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

222, did you go to the park for the opera? I was planning to, but it seemed chilly and I was tired after work.

Posted by: Nats_Lady | September 14, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

> coverageislacking

In Sunday morning's DTE there was absolutely no mention of the Saturday night game, even though it ended by midnight. Unless you count that they managed to update the Nats record in the standings to include the loss, while still saying 'late game' and not listing the score two inches below.

You can bet if a Redskins game ended at midnight they'd have held the presses long enough to get in a gamer and columns by Wise and Boswell, and still managed to get the papaer on my driveway by the same time Sunday morning.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 14, 2009 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Whats that you say Eclipse, I think you should have said, "the most over-rated, over-hyped and over-covered team" would not only have the presses held until the completion of their latest debacle, the editors would have waited a few more minutes for Jenkins to check in and the damn paper would still have arrived on time.

There is gonna come a day and the question will be what will the WAPO do?

Posted by: TippyCanoe | September 14, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"In Sunday morning's DTE there was absolutely no mention of the Saturday night game, even though it ended by midnight. Unless you count that they managed to update the Nats record in the standings to include the loss, while still saying 'late game' and not listing the score two inches below."

The tide's a turnin'. Snidely's leaky canoe is about to sink. And this ship is rapidly becoming one fast, sleek corvair. Patience ...

Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow, a Jeff Beukeboom reference!

Another great hockey name - probably even better than Bonk. I used bring the Boom onto folks playing NHL on my SEGA.

Hated the Rangers, though. Still do, to be honest.

Posted by: JohninMpls | September 14, 2009 12:53 PM | Report abuse

> There is gonna come a day and the question will be what will the WAPO do?

It's simple. They'll sell to Snyder. He specializes in taking once-valuable properties and applying the final death blow, y'know. The Post is just laying the groundwork now.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 14, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

'Skins are making more money under Snyder than ever before. Just Saying.

Posted by: Section506 | September 14, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

The last-place Nationals have plenty of holes to fill. The Washington Times reported that general manager Mike Rizzo has targeted three "clear-cut needs" to address this offseason.

The Nats reportedly are interested in landing a veteran starting pitcher, a solid middle infielder and a set-up man for closer Mike MacDougal.

Davis, Penny, Looper or Wolf would work

"Few expect the Nats to be competitive in 2010, but that should not preclude the team from attempting to improve their starting pitching via the free agent market. The issue, however, is that most of the available pitchers fall into the Kyle Lohse mold in that they signed minuscule one year deals and have turned in all-star caliber seasons. Randy Wolf and Joel Pineiro are solid pitchers, but not the types a cellar-dwelling team should be spending 4/$40 mil on. John Lackey could be an interesting target, but the more realistic bet is on the Nationals bringing in some combination of Doug Davis, Brad Penny, Braden Looper and Randy Wolf. These wouldn't be awful signings but the difference between 60 and 67 wins is marginal at best." - Eric Seidman

Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I expect MacDougal to be a set up man for Storen by next year.

Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 1:43 PM | Report abuse

The Nats are 24-26 in their last 50 games. I consider this to be a truer reflection of the team's ability than their overall record. They're tied for the 3rd highest team batting average in the NL, have the 3rd highest team OBP and are 6th in runs scored. They have the financial resources without increasing 2009 opening day payroll to improve their pitching and defence in 2010, similar to how they improved their offence in 2009. Any team that doesn't consider itself a contender in 2010 never will be. The attitude with this organization must change. It is not far-fetched that the Nats could have a winning record in 2010. However, the organization must believe this to have a chance.

Posted by: slopitchtom | September 14, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Attitude means nothing. The ability of this team must change if they want to be a contender, plain and simple. Nobody on the team is performing worse than their career numbers would make us expect them to, save Austin Kearns. Several individuals are actually performing better.

And if you show us a stat list of everyone on our team with their career numbers we would predict something better than what the record shows this year, but still 5th place in the NL East. Your attitude will only improve how you deal with your own abilities. Over 162 games, no mental tricks will be effective enough to make you perform better than your ability.

Posted by: Section506 | September 14, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

@NL -- I did go to the Opera in the Outfield on Saturday. The Diamond Club area was closed, but all the sections from there down the third base line and into the seats behind the left field fence were quite full. And alot of people sat in seats along the first base line as well. People were also on the outfield grass well out into left and center field. The area in front of the scoreboard near the warning track was ful of kids running around having a great time nearly all night long. The Post and the Wash Times said there were 19,000 people there, and the lines at the concession stands that were open sure showed it. The rain held off, and the temperature was fine (especially with all those people there). There were some nice touches too -- Stan K was at the Kennedy Center and welcomed everyone and when the cast came out for curtain calls they were all wearing Nats hats. There are some great pictures of the events on the Nats320 blog.

Oh, and the opera was really good too! The sound was quite good and the HD screen showed everything crystal clear. The colors were fabulous. I don't know if you heard, but the lead tenor in the show (playing Count Almaviva) sang the National Anthem on the previous
Wednesday night at the game.

Posted by: Section222 | September 14, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

In a sport where players' facial hair sometimes looks really weird, John Lannan looks vy good with a beard, IMHO.

Posted by: Section109 | September 14, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

It was a very good production of Barber of Seville, I'll agree. And Rabbit of Seville was fantastic as well.

Kamen piled on the Nats, too. From "In the Loop":

Terrorist Nats?

The long Washington Nationals season is finally crawling to a close. The chronic basement dwellers have outdone their prior haplessness and are on pace to lose 106 games, which would make them the second-worst Washington team in a century. (Thank goodness the Mets lost 120 games in 1962.)

Now it seems that being a Nats fan -- and wearing one of those green Nationals hats -- not only can be embarrassing but can even get you in a heap of trouble.

Take what happened when Tyler Allard, legislative assistant to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), wore the cap as he returned from a trip last month to Jordan and Israel. An Israeli airport security guard pointed to the hat with the curly W team logo and demanded with a tone of disgust, "Why do you wear that?"

"Good question," his father, former longtime Senate aide Nick Allard, replied. "They are hopeless. They desperately need relief. You never know when they will hit, and because their defense is so bad, they suffer more than they can dish out. It's not rational and I can't explain why, but we are loyal and we love them." The more he talked, the more upset the security folks became, Nick Allard reports. Their luggage was checked and rechecked, and they were quizzed by security.

When they were finally cleared to board, Allard wrote in an e-mail, the head of the security detail said: "We do not appreciate your Hamas headgear." Green apparently is a Palestinian "color," Allard speculated, and the vaguely Arabic Nats logo might have been mistaken for an extremist emblem.

"What the Nats have done this season is almost unforgivable," Allard notes, "but they are a long way from being mistaken for an organization capable of terrorizing the eastern division much less the Middle East. It's tough being a Nats fan. Home or away."

Posted by: Section506 | September 14, 2009 3:12 PM | Report abuse

"The Nats are 24-26 in their last 50 games. I consider this to be a truer reflection of the team's ability than their overall record."

The Nats were 64-64 in their last 128 games of 2007, and many thought that was a true reflection of the team's ability too. But that's the kind of thinking that got Manny Acta re-upped for another two years as manager. Be careful what you wish for, you may end up getting it.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 14, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

"Now it seems that being a Nats fan -- and wearing one of those green Nationals hats -- not only can be embarrassing but can even get you in a heap of trouble."

Real Nats fans know that green is not one of the team's colors.

Posted by: FromTheEclipseThePlaceThatBobCarpenterCallsHome | September 14, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I was just reposting, not suggesting Al Kamen knew anything. "Green apparently is a Palestinian "color," Allard speculated..." is another sentence to slap your head over. Green is the color of Islam.

Posted by: Section506 | September 14, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm not even sure you have to be a real Nats fan to know that green is not one of the team's colors. That's embarrassing.

Posted by: Section222 | September 14, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I guess Kamen has seen a few fans on the Metro wearing the Green St. Pats Nats Hat. (Say that 10 times fast.) So he figured that green was the team's color.

Posted by: Section222 | September 14, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Could be worse. Do they sell pink Nat's caps? I wonder what terrorist outfit uses that colour?

Posted by: soundbloke | September 14, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I have my doubts about the whole incident. Everyone knows it is only phony front-running fans of the other Evil Empire that wear green hats, when they aren't wearing pink hats. There is no such thing as a Nats green hat, or pink hats, at least according to local legend. That's why the sharp security guard stopped Allard.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | September 14, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

And the favored yiddish/hebrew letter is "Y" for Yahweh. And the color of Israel is blue. The verdamnt Yankee colors ... Israel should be censured for that!!!

Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

There are indeed green Nats hats, handed out last year at the Halfway to Paddy's Day game. (Thankfully this Sept 17th finds them on the road.) And I have even seen them outfit the Welcome Home soldiers at the game in green Nats hats on occasion.

And sadly I believe pink Nats hats are also available both online and in the team stores at the park. But there's always the option to Just Say No.

Posted by: nunof1 | September 14, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Peri

Now the Palestinian and Israeli governments have both some some terrible and unconscionable things in their time but, comparing them to the Yankees. You go too far sir! No one deserves that.

Posted by: soundbloke | September 14, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

We had lots of fun at the opera, which is reviewed in today's Post. Kasten made a pretty funny joke, if you can laugh at yourself. To paraphrase, he said that this evening brought together two of Washington's world class institutions, the world class Washington National Opera and the world class facility where the Nats play.

Posted by: markfromark | September 14, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

I just love early-fall regular season baseball. Getting to see players promoted from the minors. Taking melancholy looks around the stadium, trying to figure who will return to next season's team. But my all-time favorite Nats fall baseball memory is being at the last game of the 2005 season - Oct. 2 hosting the Phillies. The Phillies and Astros were life and death for the playoffs and I was sitting in Sec. 526 at RFK surrounded by a contingent of Philadelphia fans. The Phillies needed a win and a Houston loss to make postseason and the Nats fell behind 5-3 in the sixth inning. One beer-fuled Phillies fan said "We're in! All we need is for the Cubs to beat the Astros." Chicago had a 4-3 lead in the sixth, but the Astros scored three in the bottom of the inning and held on for a 6-4 win. As the Philly fan raged, cursed and sputtered into the late innings at RFK, someone leaned over to him and said very loudly "You know, if you have to depend on the Cubs..." I never heard the rest of the sentence because of all the laughter from Nats fans. My second favorite late season moment was listening to Howie Rose and Tom McCarthy go nuts on WFAN in 2007 when the Nats won some critical games against New York during the Mets slide out of the playoffs.

Posted by: leetee1955 | September 14, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes Ladson comes up with a good tidbit. But most of the time he doesn't seem to have a clue? Seems like you get a whole heck of a lot more "heads up" from Brian Oliver, Chico, and BinM. Sheesh that guy Morrow from Harrisburg seems to have more insight? He ran down the prospects and ranked them, and Brian added his insights.

Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The Yankees blue is so dark that it's nearly black -- decidedly darker than the light blue in the Israeli flag.

Also, the opera was reviewed in the Post today, though they focused on the production, not the Nats Park experience. My 2 cents: It was neat being on the field. However, the lines for the concessions were unbearably long, even as the opera was beginning -- like Opening Day 2008 bad. And the sound was not good. Though there were screens at the concessions to watch, the sound was barely audible. On the field, it wasn't very good either. If you stayed close to the stands -- near the warning track -- it was possible to listen, but the farther you went on to the field, the less it resembled music. It was very comfortable, although the grass was wet. I left at the intermission. I wouldn't repeat the experience unless I brought in all my food, and was allowed to bring in beer or wine.

Posted by: fischy | September 14, 2009 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Sometimes Ladson comes up with a good tidbit. But most of the time he doesn't seem to have a clue? Seems like you get a whole heck of a lot more "heads up" from Brian Oliver, Chico, and BinM. Sheesh that guy Morrow from Harrisburg seems to have more insight? He ran down the prospects and ranked them, and Brian added his insights.
Posted by: periculum | September 14, 2009 6:32 PM
-------------------------
Peric: Harlan, Ladson & Morrow are all professional journalists, and Brian Oliver has a highly informative website, as well as the respect of a number of the orginizations' broadcasters and writers.

I'm just a long-time baseball stathead/geek, following the local team at all levels of the orginization. I fear you damn me with false praise for even mentioning my handle along with people such as the fore-mentioned list.

Posted by: BinM | September 14, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I watched a lot of football yesterday switching back and forth between the Nats and the Sunday ticket(NFL) my wife said "how can you focus on both" i just gave her that stare and she said "nevermind" anyway watching MNF right now and waiting for the Rockies and Giants at 10:15 back in the day the Giants were my favorite team other than the old Senators.I loved the Giants and use to wait for the old Evening Star to get the scores from the west coast and the fact that my b'day falls on oct.3rd you know why i'm a Giants fan and a lifelong baseball fan look it up Oct.3rd 1951

Posted by: dargregmag | September 14, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

@dargramps: Without even looking it up, 10/3/51 is the Bobby Thompson HR against the trolley-dodgers. "The Giants win the Pennant"(x3). Why did I know that: That's just the kind of baseball junkie I am.

Posted by: BinM | September 14, 2009 9:37 PM | Report abuse

@dargramps: FWIW, I first became aware of baseball in 1962, listening to Vin Scully on the radio with my great-uncle on summer vacation in Venice, CA. The WS lock-out in 1994 was nearly a deal-killer, but with the Nationals, I'm back.

Posted by: BinM | September 14, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I took a decade off after the strike, but got back because watching the O's with my son was something we could do together, both being about equally gifted athletically and thus precluded from playing anything. Then the Sox won the series and here came the Nats. Sort of a gift from the boy.

Posted by: markfromark | September 15, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

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