Thursday, July 14, 2005

This is getting old

The Nationals lost their third straight game, and it was the third straight game in which the bullpen gave up late runs to lose it. John Patterson again pitched a strong game, giving up two runs on seven hits, while striking out nine and walking one. Patterson left the game after six innings and 115 pitches.

Luis Ayala relieved Patterson and immediately got into trouble, again. Ayala escaped without giving up a run only because Damian Miller committed a baserunning blunder. With one out and men on first and third, Ricky Weeks grounded to Ayala. For some reason Miller tried to score and was hung out to dry. Joey Eischen then relieved Ayala and promptly walked Lyle Overbay to load the bases. It was the only hitter Eischen faced; perhaps he was thinking Frank Robinson again wanted him to come in only to walk a batter. In any event, Gary Majewski struck out Carlos Lee to end the inning.

Majewski wasn't as lucky in the eighth. After Geoff Jenkins singled and Bill Hall sacrificed Jenkins to second, Majewski intentionally walked Russ Branyan. Damian Miller then atoned for his baserunning blunder by doubling in both Jenkins and Branyan. That made it 4-2, and the game was over.

We say it was over because there was little chance that the Nationals would score two runs that late in the game. The bullpen has been unable to hold opposing teams scoreless late in games recently, and for that they should be blamed, but it's a bit unfair to blame everything on the relievers. Unable to score late in games, the Nats' hitters are forcing the relievers into a situation in which they have no margin for error. The only way for the team to prevail is for the bullpen to pitch flawlessly while everyone waits for a run. As we saw in Philadelphia before the break, that can be a long wait. It's one thing to require perfection from your closer--after all, that's why you have a closer--but it's quite another to require it of your entire bullpen.

Besides Patterson's performance, there was really only one other bright spot--Preston Wilson hit a homer in his first at bat as a National. That's small consolation, but it's at least something.

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