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Against the worst, Nationals need to be at their best

Morning roundup

The best way for the Washington Nationals to prevent their ascension from perpetual doormat to possible contender is to lose games like Tuesday night's against teams like the Astros. The Nats entered with a 7-3 record against teams with sub-.500 records. That's what good teams do -- compete with the good teams, thump the bad ones. Punish incompetence.

Last night, they could not take advantage of the Astros, no matter how hard the Astros tried. Even in winning, they showed why they have the worst record in the National League. They committed two errors as the Nationals erased a four-run deficit in the fourth. Leading by two in the eighth, Brandon Lyon loaded the bases and grazed Willie Harris with a pitch to push across a run.

And still, the Nationals could not beat the Astros. Their eighth-inning rally fizzled with strikeouts by Adam Kennedy and Cristian Guzman. The Nationals came through in the ninth, Ian Desmond and Roger Bernadina each hitting singles to put them ahead. And the Nationals STILL could not close out the Astros, now 18-34. Matt Capps didn't allow an earned run in either appearance, but he was on the mound for each of the past two losses.

So now the Nationals are 7-4 against the league's bottom half. In a way, these next two games in Houston could hinge the Nationals season more than any other. I suppose that's hyperbolic, and maybe unfair given the Nationals will be playing their 19th and 20th road games in a span of 26 days. But this series presents an opportunity to augment their record against a really bad team, a chance that must be seized.

Boz brought up the importance of beating bad teams in a column last weekend. The Nationals stayed afloat with one of the league's toughest schedules -- 42 of their first 51 games came against teams currently .500 or better. It's not the end of the world if they lose to the Astros, but it's a heck of a missed opportunity.

Last night, the Nationals did overcome two deficits to nearly win. "We gave them a fight. We came back," Desmond said. "That says something about this ballclub. It might be a loss now, but in the end, this is all just putting us closer together, stronger as a team, all that kind of stuff. We lost tonight, but maybe we get the overall victory in the end."

Maybe Desmond is right. But the Nationals have reached the point at which, in a winnable game against a team playing as poorly as the Astros, they should not be settling for anything less for the actual victory.


A real treat today. Barry Svrluga looks back five years later at the 2005 Nationals and the magical streak they began right about now.

Barry also has a chart detailing the whereabouts of all the principles then and now. Over the next 10 days, Barry will be providing more 2005-centric content for the Journal, so look forward to that.

As for the last night, the Nationals thought they won before a check-swing call went against them and Lance Berkman delivered a walkoff single for an 8-7 Nationals loss that dropped them back below .500.


Buffalo 4, Syracuse 1: Colin Balester pitched one perfect relief inning and struck out one. In his first three relief appearances, Balester has retired all seven batters he's faced. Shairon Martis allowed three earned runs on seven hits and one walk in six innings.

Harrisburg 4, Richmond 1: Tom Milone allowed one run on five hits and a walk in 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven. Brad Coon and Michael Martinez went 2 for 4.

Winston-Salem 9, Potomac 1: Robert Jacobsen went 2 for 4 with a home run. Derek Norris went 0 for 2 with two walks.

Lakewood 8, Hagerstown 7 (14 innings) : J.R. Higley went 4 for 6 with a home run that sent the game into extra innings. J.P. Ramirez went 3 for 6 with a home run. Daniel Rosenbaum allowed one earned in 4 2/3 innings on five hits and no walks, striking out two.


Joe Posnanski says Bryce Harper is no sure thing, as history tells us.

Tom Verducci says the Nationals have to take him.

Scott Boras praises Tony Gwynn for his handling of Stephen Strasburg, Scott Miller writes.

The Nationals entered Tuesday with a rare statistical feat, Fire Jim Bowden points out.

By Adam Kilgore  |  June 2, 2010; 1:44 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Game 53 discussion thread: Nationals at Astros
Next: The Streak: A daily look back


Dear Ryan Zimmerman,

You make so many great plays and produce at the plate, so it's hard to bring this up, but a great manager once had this conversation with a player:

Lou: [After Dorn boots a grounder] C'mon, Dorn! Get in front of the damn ball! Don't give me this olè bulls***!
Roger: Look, I took one of those in the eye last year, and I am not about to lose my sight!
Lou: [Unconcerned] I'm deeply moved. Every time I see you play one off the hip, you owe me forty sit-ups.

Posted by: Kavorka | June 2, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I am with Kavorka, Zimm's been shooting from the hip a lot on D and making bad throws still, same as last season.

Posted by: alex35332 | June 2, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Another good game by Bryce Harper in the JUCO WS last night: 3-5 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI. Have to assume he is the person the Nats have identifed as the #1 pick.

Posted by: marathoner | June 2, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Lost in the turmoil of the ninth inning was the failure of Gonzalez to get the squeeze bunt in play. Dunn was 60 feet down the line when Gonzalez bunted right into the ground. 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth might have saved all of the drama that erupted.

Posted by: MKadyman | June 2, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Didn't see the last 2 innings but it sounds like the Nats beat themselves with there inability to get hits or sacrifice flies with the bases loaded. It's pretty tough to win when you strike out 13 times like the Nats did last night.

I didn't see the checked swing call on Berkman last night, but there was no way the umpire Hohn who threw out Oswalt the day before would end a game on a check swing strike. We still had a chance to win but Berkman got the key hit. It shouldn't have come down to that if we don't make an error in the ninth inning.

Posted by: wizfan89 | June 2, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

As for last night's game, I couldn't stay awake past the 6th, so I can't comment on the 9th.

On another note, as I commented on the piece in question, it's great to hear from the Blogfather again! I'll look forward to more retrospectives on the 2005 season. Loved the updates on principal players in particular.

That was some special love affair between the adopted team and the fans in 2005, all taking place in the dumpy old stadium where I fell in love with my Nats. Hope that more fans will eventually jump onto the bandwagon with those of us who never left. Maybe SS, and an improved record, will help in that regard. Here's hoping.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | June 2, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

@MKadyman -- I thought Gonzalez did a great job just making contact on the suicide squeeze attempt. The pitch was high and those are more difficult to make contact on, especially with the squeeze on.

I was more disappointed with Adam Kennedy's AB. A sac fly would have given the two-run cushion that Capps obviously needed.

Still, take away the Zim error and the bad non-call by the 3B umpire and the Nats are over .500.

My question is this, though. Why, after the non-call on the check swing, did Capps/Maldanado think it was smart to try the same pitch in the same location to a very competent hitter? A slider in on the hands earlier in the AB had Berkman swinging and missing wildly, so why wouldn't they try that again? You just went outside and almost got the call. Jam him inside on the next pitch and he probably would have either 1) swung and missed, or 2) got jammed and pop it up/grounded weakly to second.

It seems every time the Nats lose a lead at the end of the game it's on an off-speed pitch low and away where the hitter can just flick his bat and poke it to the opposite field (Astros, Padres, Orioles, Giants just to name a few). Start jamming them inside, for heaven's sake!

Posted by: erocks33 | June 2, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Stray thoughts...

Agree that Zimm needs to square up to that ball. He can't always get by with his glove.

Agree with the criticism of the last pitch to Berkman. I kind of grimaced as I saw Maldonado set up out there. Seemed like the right time to jam him.

Can we get a full story in the Post on the Nats' "other prospects" especially now that Jesus is imminent? Two of the pitchers mentioned today, Milone and Rosenbaum have excellent numbers, but are they real prospects? What about some of the guys we thought were prospects, like Marrero and Espinosa, who aren't hitting that much? Time to write them off? A little coverage, please?

Finally, it's fun to criticize a team that's hanging around .500 with more talent on the way. Beats recoiling in horror at the latest full-scale disaster on the field.

Posted by: baltova1 | June 2, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Lost in the turmoil of the ninth inning was the failure of Gonzalez to get the squeeze bunt in play. Dunn was 60 feet down the line when Gonzalez bunted right into the ground.

Posted by: MKadyman | June 2, 2010 9:50 AM

Ehh, I'm not going to blame Gonzo for not perfectly laying down a chest high fastball from a hard throwing closer. He did well to foul it off without harm.

Should have scored more that inning though.

Posted by: Kev29 | June 2, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

New Thread Poll: Did any other partial-plan holders (like me) just get their tickets for the 8th (like me), and did you splurge a little bit (like me) because you're mildly insane (like me)?

I'll be sitting behind the Nats dugout, so when Riggleman pulls SS with 2 outs in the 7th after he had just given up his first hit (bloop single to right - he had walked a batter in the 4th to erase the perfecto), I can stand and cheer and have a good angle on whether or not his cap-tipping etiquette still needs work.

Posted by: Bethesdangit1 | June 2, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

All I know is what I read in the paper, but Desmond seems to be (a) very confident if not actually cocky, even for a shortstop and (b) more of a vocal leader than Zimmerman or anybody else on the team, at least given Nyjer's slump. I wonder if the more veteran players like that or don't. For me, I'm hoping he and Zimm are there for the next decade or so.

Posted by: markfromark | June 2, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I want the Nats to beat the 'Stros (and everybody else) every time, but I don't know if I buy into Adam's make-or-break theory. The Nats took 2 out of-3 last season from the Yanks and shudda swept 'em, yet it didn't hurt those pompous jerks any or help our guys, other than to avoid 110 losses.

And as bad as the Astros are right now, they're not as bad as last year's or the '08 Nats. Oswalt and Myers would be 1-2 in the Nats' rotation at the moment.

Posted by: nats24 | June 2, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

Rare statistical feat? Hogwash. That blog redefined what the triple crown is in baseball to make a point. Fire FJB.

Posted by: Watson1 | June 2, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

"Why, after the non-call on the check swing, did Capps/Maldanado think it was smart to try the same pitch in the same location to a very competent hitter?"

Because Maldonado is a career minor leaguer, unlike Pudge Rodriguez who probably would have made a different pitch call there.

Posted by: nunof1 | June 2, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Season ticket options for Strasmas now sold out. Took about an hour and a half for them to go.

Posted by: Kev29 | June 2, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

bethesda, yep, I snagged some seats. Not sure what surprised me more – that I was able to get really nice seats or that I even got in at all. At first the web site was totally sluggish and figured it was going to be one of those click and wait and wait deals. Managed to get in and snagged Club Seats in 213 right behind the plate. Amazing.

I’ve got 2 other tix for 6/8 (in Sec. 112) which I will now ditch, i.e., sell to somebody who really wants them.

Posted by: gonatsgo1 | June 2, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

The mark of a contending ball club is to crush the also-rans the Astro's,Pirates,D-Backs of the world you will not threaten the upper echelons of the NL until you start beating those teams like a drum show them no mercy.Ryan Zimmerman"s error was INEXCUSABLE! plain and simple, an all-star gold glover does not make an error like that he gobbles up that grounder and starts the Astro's manager to thinking "now what do i say to the local media and my gm about this loss" I'm hoping Riggleman will let them know that good teams don't blow games like that one last night if they want to be contending in September.

Posted by: dargregmag | June 2, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I'll take Zimmerman's error over Guzman swinging strike three with the bases loaded when a previous hitter, Harris, walked a run in. He swung at the first pitch. The guy looked really terrible again ... yeah he goes on tears, has hot streaks but god only knows why Riggleman continues to bat this guy lead off or second? Or at all?

Posted by: periculum | June 2, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse


I believe previous batter, Harris, was HBP, was he not?

Burt it's good that you've found your scapegoat. Don't let any contradictory facts--like Guzzie's two very nice fielding plays in the late innings--change your world view.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | June 2, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

-Is Zimmerman having shoulder problems? He either thinks he is on the tennis court, swating flies in the hay-barn or in the bull-ring. The ole-ole-ole is getting tiresome to watch and it finally caught up with him.

-Craig Stammen makes it easy, he has finally earned two tickets to paradise (Syracuse, NY)

-Not putting the Astros away in the 2nd, 8th or 9th makes loses like this possible.

-Ray Knight was right on target when he kept asking why our pitchers failed to bust the Astros inside all night. The Capps debacle w/Berkman was the icing on the cake. Why in the world with 2 strikes would you not bust the guy inside, the worst that could have happened was a weak ground ball and probably the end of the game. This away-away-away stuff will be the undoing of this pitching staff.

-Kilgore is right, they have to win 2 more and limp home one game above .500 because the next 3 against the Red-legs ain't gonna be easy! Look the Braves, Marlins and Mets are not going away anytime soon and we all know the Philthys are going to straighten the ship sooner rather then later!

Posted by: TippyCanoe | June 2, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

TippyCanoe: Could not have said it better myself and yes Ray Knight was on point with his analysis of Capps vs.Berkman matchup and yes the Reds will be licking their chops comming into Nationals Park.

Posted by: dargregmag | June 2, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I do NOT want to hear any more moaning and groaning or excuse-making by the Nationals. Mental laziness -- and believe me I have many four-letter words I'd put in there -- are why they are losing to teams like the Astros. Lazy rich-man-itis, the bane of overpaid sports heroes everywhere, occasionally seems to affect the Nationals after every decent game they play. The look at every win as earning the right to take it easy for the next game or two. That's not what true winners do. That's not what true contenders do.

The thinking goes like this: "We did well tonight didn't we? Great! Whew, now the fans/Rigglemen will be off our backs for awhile! YaY!" They seem to consider every well-played game to be a ticket to permit them to goof off in the next game.

That's simply insane and if any of you Nationals are reading this, get the hell off your collective derrieres and start playing baseball consistently!

Otherwise, we fans will vote with our feet. Count on it.


Posted by: dstafford2 | June 2, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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