Saturday, July 16, 2005

More of the same

The Nationals have settled into a pattern: score a few runs early behind a strong starting pitching performance, then waste that performance by giving up late runs and by failing to score late in the game.

The Nationals lost 4-3 in the bottom of the 10th when Mike Stanton balked home the winning run. Luis Ayala started the 10th and once again was completely ineffective. Chris Magruder led off with a double, and Brady Clark sacrificed him to third. Ayala then intentionally walked Ricky Weeks and was done for the night. Stanton then came in and appeared to pick off Weeks for the second out, but first base umpire Paul Schrieber ruled that Stanton had made a move toward home before throwing to first and had therefore balked. Magruder scored and the game was over.

The Nationals scored two in the first (one on a Brad Wilkerson homer) and one in the fifth (on a Preston Wilson double). Milwaukee scored two in the first and was down 3-2 in the fifth. The Nats had some opportunities to pull away, but couldn't. They had men on first and third with one out in the 7th, but Jose Guillen grounded into a double play. And they had a man on third with one out in the 8th, but Vinny Castilla flied out to shallow right and Wilson was thrown out trying to tag up from third.

When Carlos Lee homered in the 8th to tie the game, every fan probably had the feeling that we were watching the same bad movie all over again. So true. In the next two innings the Nats went out 1, 2, 3, never mounting an offensive charge.

The sad truths are that the Nats' bullpen (other than Cordero) isn't as good as we thought it was and their hitting is as bad as the last place standing in runs scored reflects. To put a finer point on it, you know your lineup needs improvement when your 8th place hitter is hitting only 15 points higher than your pitcher. To put an even finer point on it, we don't know why Frank Robinson keeps Cristian Guzman in the starting lineup. The rational thing to do at this point is send him to the minors to see whether he can work out his hitting problems. He is simply not a major league hitter.

The Nats now are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the Braves, and, while we shouldn't let this losing streak overwhelm us because the Nats aren't playing at full strength, it's pretty clear that they need offensive and bullpen help if they are to compete to win the division down the stretch.

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