Sunday, July 31, 2005

Things I was thinking while trying to distract myself from the frustration of building a crappy bookcase

Earlier today, I bought this beautiful bookcase. It's huge and has handsome glass doors and should provide a fine display for some of the nicer looking books I've accumulated over the years. I like books---even if my reviews of the baseball ones are more infrequent than I prefer.

Hours ago, I was very excited about this bookcase. And then I noticed the directions were written in Slavic. Well, they are on a certain functional level, because they don't make no sense, Brandine. The only other explanation I can conjure at the moment is that
the designer is the same guy who invented rack-and-peanut steering.

I began distracting myself in an attempt to deflect my disdain and frustration; invariably, I began thinking about the Washington Nationals, who
did something extraordinary today, actually winning a game.

How hopelessly predictable had this July slide become? I think
Nationalz put it best after Friday's 4-3 loss to the Marlins:

Nats fans, be prepared. There was a shocking result to the opening game of the Marlins-Nats matchup: the Nats lost a 1-run game. I am completely serious.

Or maybe
Rocket over at Nasty Nats had:

Guess what? Yep, another one-run loss. And just like yesterday, another one-run loss in which the Nats mounted a comeback but fell just short.

Or maybe the
Nationals Interest guys did:

The Nationals' starting pitcher pitched well, but the team's lack of offense and spotty defense gave the opponent the win in a close game. Sound familiar? It is the pattern to nearly all Washington Nationals games in July, including yesterday.

Well, you get the point. This was getting as tiresome as putting together that friggin' bookcase. But, whaddya know, the Nats received something along the lines of competent play from the shortstop . . .

[Aside: Is there any stupider play in baseball than intentionally walking a eunuch for an eighth hitter? I mean, I know the pitcher is up next and Guzman is having a once-in-blue-moon kind of day, but doesn't McKeon kind of have to figure---like all opposing managers do---that he's simply receiving a blessing that the eighth hitter is a de facto ninth hitter?]

. . . and witnessed Nick Johnson's first homer since June 7 and benefitted from ¡LIVAN! focusing his attention on tossing lots of pitches instead of making idle threats. As a great lyricist once said, it was a good day.


To no one's surprise, Bodes couldn't pull the A-K on any trades this weekend. But that's okay because , as we already know, Bodes loves this core group of guys. Heck, he loves it so much that, in his eyes, the 100-win first half pace was a sign of underachievement.

Well, okay: Bodes doesn't love the fellas that much, right? If I'm reading things right, Rocket Bill was feeding us The Effect ("Keep the core together") before The Cause ("Sellers wanted too much"). Bodes wanted more and couldn't get it. To that end, I'm guessing that Bowden wouldn't have minded parting with a "core" guy, but the jerks on the other end (the Mariners, for sure, and I'm betting the Devil Rays) wanted too many of them---or a "core" plus too much in the "prospect" sense, too. Or whatever.

At any rate, Rocket Bill gives us about a thousand percent more detail than Les Carpenter's article in the Post does. Per Rocket Bill:

According to Bowden, contending teams wanted players from the Nationals' farm system and young players from the Major League roster, but the teams were unwilling to give Washington a No. 1 starter or an impact power hitter.
Bowden wouldn't say which Minor Leaguers the opposing teams wanted, but according to a baseball source, pitchers Bill Bray, Armando Galarraga and Jason Bergman, as well as third baseman Kory Casto and shortstop Ian Desmond, were looked at.

I seriously doubt any of those guys are worth scuttling a trade over, but then again, I'm no GM. I'm not even Jim Bowden. And I agree (further on in the article) that Patterson-for-Guardado would have been lunacy.

Rocket Bill also notes that a late August veteran dump isn't out of the question, should the team continue to pull an '86 Orioles fade:

If the Nationals are out of the race before Sept. 1, they may be willing to trade some of their veterans in waiver-wire deals, but they are not going to give them away.
"We may have some pieces to trade in August, if we don't turn it around by the end of August," Bowden said. "People want our guys that are struggling, but they want to steal them. They don't want to give up prospects. They just want to take them. But we are not going to throw in the towel. We are [one game behind the Astros in the Wild Card race]. We have gone through a stretch. Those who have watched us everyday, it's hard to imagine us
winning a game, but it will pass."


We're not quite at the Boz, Booze, Potato in the Tailpipe stage yet, but Tom Boswell is feeling uneasy, man. He's continuing his season-long bipolar thing with the Orioles, this time feeling mournful over their extended tailspin and regretting that their hopes of the postseason are dead.

As for the Nats, Boz is not so enthusiastically researching exceptions to the Pythagorean theorem of baseball these days:

That's been the progression of the Nats, attracting less attention early in the year before becoming the sport's most flamboyantly successful team at midseason. Now, all since the Fourth of July, Washington has lived out every cynic's prediction of "returning to the mean."

And it also appears that I'm not the only one who thinks that the Nats have somehow angried-up-the-blood of those jerk baseball gods:

Most of this monsoon of Nats misery arrived after GM Jim Bowden risked angering the gods by proclaiming that his Nats might win the World Series even if he didn't add any more players. Jim, better check that waiver wire for Joe Hardy, quick.
Couldn't baseball have waited a little longer before delivering such a reality check? Apparently not. The threat of a sudden season-scorching collapse has always been a central part of the game's gallows lore. We're just getting a dastardly double dose.

Today's win was encouraging, but tonight's O's loss was rather ugly. (Did you know that ¡LIVAN! 's 144-pitch outing accounted for only 100 more pitches than Hot Rod Lopez hurled in the first inning alone?) It's abundantly clear that Boz just wants a local winner. I don't think August is going to be much more comforting to him, so it's best to station a nurse on twenty-four hour, 'round-the-clock watch.

You know, just in case.


All those Matt Cepicky worshippers in Nats Nation can rejoice, because Matt's back in the show, baby. According to Rocket Bill:

The Nationals made the move because they need another player who can come off the bench like infielder Carlos Baerga and be a successful pinch-hitter. They don't feel Byrd or Ryan Church can do the job at this time. [. . . ] The Nationals don't believe Byrd is a bench player and they want him to spend at least 30 days on his hitting mechanics. He has had serious problems hitting inside pitches.

I know I sliced-and-diced Rocket Bill's text a bit there, but things still don't make complete sense. This is the same Byrd who was heralded as a great fifth outfielder at the time of the Preston Wilson trade, right?

Also, I know that Church is hurting and came up lame in a couple of crucial late-game at-bats as a pinch-hitter, but is the answer really to call up a slower, older version of the same? What precisely makes Cepicky any more likely to fare appreciably better than Church in the role? He's been a full-timer at New Orleans, you know. Has he snuck Lenny Harris's pinch-hitting manifesto under his pillow?

Finally, and most importantly, does this mean that Jose Vidro is magically better? That would be nice, since Castilla's a gimp these days and, at last count, Baerga and Carroll were the only two bench reserves available to Robinson or Rodriguez or the Magic Eight Ball, or whoever manages the team these days. So, unless Vidro's healed quickly (and he wasn't in the lineup today), then while Cepicky's nice to have around I guess, it might have been advisable to summon Rick Short or---heaven forfend---Brendan Harris.


Cepicky assumed the roster space relinquished by Marlon Byrd, who was miffed, to say the least, at being optioned to New Orleans:

Byrd did not take the news well. He already was preparing for yesterday's game against the Florida Marlins when he was summoned into manager Frank Robinson's office. Upon learning he was being sent down, Byrd said nothing. He walked out of Robinson's office, hurriedly packed his bags, declined to talk to reporters and left. Robinson was not pleased with Byrd's actions. "That's about as bad as I've seen anyone take it," he said. "I would like for someone to be a bit more receptive to what we're saying. ... He had an attitude when he came in, he had an attitude while he was here and he had an attitude when he left."

Wow, yet another guy who can't get along with Robinson. Management really has to stop acquiring such bad apples, I guess. Ohka, Day, Vargas, Byrd: so many reprobates . . .


Harper at OMG has a fine look at the brave Nats who play in pain---and perform miserably doing so. His critique of the infield shortage, particularly the aspect of Vidro having to play in pain the other night because he was left with no other choice, roster-ly speaking, is spot-on. In addition, there's this tribute to Jose Guillen's blockheadedness:

He tweaked a shoulder injured in Late June. Jose initially injured it sliding head first, then he re-injured it sliding head first.


Lastly, submitted without comment, are the words of Cristian Guzman, who tries really hard:

"I try," the much-maligned shortstop said. "Every day I try. I don't care about going 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. Every time I play, I try to do something for my team."

Okay, one comment: Mark Zuckerman of the Times introduced the quote by saying that Guzman (prior to today's game) was mired in a 2-for-30 slump. Actually, it was 2-for-40.

But who's counting . . .

Rueckel Report, July 31

The It's Been a Long Time Edition

The Nats weren't the only victim of a stagnant latter half of July. Okay, so the Nats were stagnant pretty much all of July; by comparison, The Rueckel Report really had a kickin' month, with two updates not including this one. But the first update was on the very first day of the month, and this is the very last day, and one can only conclude that I've been a poor correspondent.

For the record, I blame it on Cristian Guzman. Just on principle.

At any rate, Baby Ruckles was a pretty active feller over roughly the last two weeks, and the seven entries below account for nearly a fifth (18%, if you're scoring at home---and, if you're reading this blog, chances are you're not) of his appearances on the campaign. As you can see below, he got to know the Altoona hitters quite well---fairing pretty nicely except for one speed bump. Akron cut in on the slow dance and said, "Diversify this!" roughing him up fairly soundly for an inning. However, Baby Ruckles got the last laugh, I suppose, vulturing a victory; it was Rueckel's seventh, placing him second on the staff in both wins and saves.

Finally, in his last appearance of this survey, Baby Ruckles blew right through Bowie, hurling a Vintage April (0.00 ERA, if you'll recall) outing:

---> July 14: 0.1 IP, 0 H, o R, 0 BB, 0 SO (no decision in 4-3 Harrisburg victory over Altoona).
---> July 16: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO (no decision in 11-5 defeat to Altoona).
---> July 17: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO (credited with win in 4-3 victory over Altoona).
---> July 22: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO (credited with hold in 10-4 victory over Altoona).
---> Juy 23: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 SO (credited with hold in 3-2 victory over Altoona).
---> July 25: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO (credited with win in 7-6 victory over Akron).
---> July 27: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO (credited with save in 7-3 victory over Bowie).

G  IP   H  R  ER HR BB  SO  W  L  ERA  SV
39 57.2 63 33 28 4 15 54 7 5 4.35 6


As you may be familiar, I've tended to focus in a most cursory manner on other members of the Harrisburg team---and mostly the other relievers. I don't hold myself out as any sort of prospecthound, though, and any non-Rueckel attention I've doled out has been merely a product of interest and probably a sign, on a subconscious level, that I'm really not trying to stalk the guy here.

But, really folks, I'm not your source for DC Nats minor league news. For that, go to the Post or the Times or Actually, don't; those guys suck at covering the minor leagues, too.

Instead, I commend you to take a stroll over to the National Farm Authority. Brian over there provides the best dedicated Nats farm coverage on the web. To my knowledge, it's the only site devoted to Nats' prospects, but this knowledge does not diminish in the least the fact that it's also the best. I mean, we're talking daily updates at every level, people! Solid.

So take a comprehensive gander at the NFA, Nataholics. It's well worth it. And, if I fall behind on The Rueckel Report and you just gotta get your Baby Ruckles fix, here's a tip: Brian covers him (among others), too.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hold that thought, Thom

From columnist Thom Loverro in today's Washington Times:

An examination of this team before the season would have left reasonable people to believe, in such a competitive division, that this was a 75-win team -- an eight-game improvement over the previous season in Montreal. That would have been a noteworthy accomplishment.
To have gotten off to such an exciting start was a gift, and if they manage to stay in competition for the division title or a wild card spot, then it will be Christmas.

Sure, Thom. That sort of describes it, but you need to refine the analogy:

---> You're happy because it's Christmas and you've been given a nice gift.

---> And, for a little while, it functioned exceedingly well and was an enjoyable gift. And there was all kinds of advertising behind it, and guys like Thom Loverro were swearing it was really something special.

---> But then you realized that the gift was missing some bells and whistles, and one of the parts was plainly defective, and another of the parts was old and frayed. Come to think of it, the gift lacked a certain power or potence, and you start to suspect that its designer was an idiot and its preparation was mismanaged.

So, the gift is nice and thoughtful and it engenders satisfaction, but just the same, you're hoping for a better one next Christmas.

That's about how it is, Thom.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Washington Nationals: Let yourself D'oh

Thanks: WaPo

So the season effectively ended tonight at about 10:30, when Brian Schnieder struck out swinging against Todd Jones, stranding Vinny Castilla at first base and sealing the Washington Nationals' fifth straight loss (the last four by one run each time out, presaged by a 14-inning marathon).

I don't phrase many things categorically in this space, but I am going to do so right now: the Nats are done, baby. Bang-zoom? Pop-fizzle. It's all over but the details. We don't even need to be reasonable or polite or optimistic about it now that the Nats aren't leading the wild card race; they're not even tied anymore, thanks to yet another win by the
Houston Astros.

You don't need me to make the pronouncement, though. Rocket Bill Ladson has told us all we need to know on the Pravda site:

Frank's sticking with Cristian Guzman. Why? Oh, I don't know. Something about not setting ultimatums upon himself regarding slumping players and not wanting to bury a guy---as long as that guy's name is not a synonym for a house of worship, of course. Ever helpful, Rocket Bill backs up Robinson's claim that he's obscenely patient with guys who suck, ostensibly demonstrating that Frobby is a mindless ingrate.

Yeah, well, who you gonna replace Guzman with? The correct answer, Smart Guy, is "Anyone Who Respirates." But, if you're the Washington Nationals, your standards are higher. General manager Jim Bowden (fittingly enough, pictured smiling, like the smirking dimwit he is) has previously said the team isn't in-line to trade for infielders, because, you know, by definition an "infielder" can't be a "toolsy outfielder." Well, not trading for infielders isn't good enough; nope, the Nats are standing pat through Sunday's (non-waiver) trading deadline. No help is on the way. Bowden couches this disappointing news in truisms about ample buyers but limited sellers; as John Marshall would say, though, this explanation is but a truism. It's not worth much when the only trading partner with whom you are linked is Chuck Lamar of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Well, it's a good thing that Bodes executed that Preston Wilson trade back when there was more than one seller, eh?

Of course, the current check-signer is a scumbag dissembler. Consequently, even if this team could pull off a reasonable trade with whatever trading chips we have left, I'm guessing we'd see Laura Bush win the WWF world title before Bud Selig and His Owner Buddies clear a red penny above the pre-imposed budget for the Nats' payroll. But don't worry; there's lots of people interested in buying the team and inheriting that sweet television deal Grimace Dupuy negotiated. And even though not a single candidate has been narrowed out of consideration, we'll still see the new owner selected by the end of the summer. This summer.

No, it's possible. Really. Seven words: flux capacitor, one point twenty one gigawatts.


To recap: 1) no ability to take on salary; 2) no opportunity to take on talent; 3) no inclination to replace a guy who's hitting in the .180s and has shown about as much regard for fundamentals as Madeleine Murray O'Haire.

Or, to put it more pointedly, we're screwed.

Sure, I can try to rationalize things like I did during the series against the Braves: that no team that wins 50 games in half-a-season is this bad and that none of the other teams is that good---to leave us in the dust of the wild card race, that is. I'm fairly baffled concerning the first point, still; I mean, there are lucky teams, and then there are the Washington Nationals of June 2005. The second point, however, is the dispositive one. As
Dexys commented over at Yuda's late in tonight's loss, any hope that the Astros will lope around enough to give the Nats a chance is probably a fool's wager. A couple nights ago, I said that only the Braves were irrelevant from here on in.

Turns out, I was short-sided. It's the Nationals who are irrelevant.


Hence, we are in essence back to where we were six months ago, when we had little more to do but heap more love on Frank Howard than even his momma ever did, God love 'em. There's all kinds of DC baseball trivia and oddities left to explore from a variety of angles, and fortunately Michael McCann of Sports Law Blog recently published an interesting analysis of the bomb shell uncovered by the intrepid PostiesSvrluga & Boswell.

The Nats, since they are run by MLB, are per se run by lying scumbags. It is thus a natural stroke that McCann explores whether a misrepresentation claim concerning the, uh, fluid outfield dimensions at RFK Stadium would be colorable for a hypothetical free agent affected by the 15-foot gap between truth and fiction:

Aside from embarrassment, might there be a legal risk for teams that mistakenly list their ballpark dimensions? More specifically, might a player who signed with a team under a certain set of employment assumptions later have recourse if those assumptions prove untrue? The most plausible claim may be "misrepresentation," which is an unambiguous,
false statement of fact that is material and induces a party to consent to a contract. If a court identifies that one party has been misrepresented, the aggrieved party can have the contract voided. Aggrieved parties may also be entitled to reliance damages.

It's an interesting subject---as Chris notes, it's more of an academic thought exercise than anything that's going to cross the desk of a practicioner, in all likelihood---and McCann approaches it with typical quality and insight, which is to say nothing short of excellence. [Needless to say, the RFK dimensions story is the catalyst, but McCann's analysis transcends just this specific news story.]

McCann notes that the Nats' two big free agent acquisitions, Castilla and Guzman, are not model clients for such a hypothetical claim, given their struggles, well, everywhere. I'll also add that RFK's dimensions---in general, but also in ignorance of the actual enormity---do the Nats no favors should Bodes decide to sell near the August 31 waivers trading deadline.

I mean, you'd be stupid to trade for Vinny Castilla, whose wobbly knee makes Scott Weiland look steady. But, even if Castilla were healthy, RFK's dimensions would (and have) obscured his power to some extent. It follows that it's to the Nats' best interests to be able to tell a potential suitor exactly how far a guy has to hit a ball in the power alley for a homer. I don't really know how general managers think (thank goodness), but I'd have to think a video of someone clearing a power alley wall that is marked "395" has to make an impression.


In retrospect, perhaps this post is a bit harsh. I mean, it's good enough that DC---after long last---just has a team, right?


Tell you what: I'll check back in tomorrow.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ye Merciful Baseball Gods: . . . UNCLE!!!!

Mr. Spalding: We know you are old and crusty and dead, but if you can find it in your carrion-pecked heart to indulge our boys with a replenished winning touch, we promise, however deep our current sorrow or invigorating our impending joy, not to drink alcohol.

Mr. Comiskey: We know you were a miserly old bastard, but couldn't you find it in your fastidious, onyx-black soul to grant us some timely hitting? Any hitting? Some runs? We're dying here, good sir. You see, back before you were driving your players to game-fixin', three runs was a respectable day's work; these days, it royally sucks. Please endulge us: restore our dignity.

Mr. Judge Landis, sir: We know, in your sage, frightfully hideous wisdom, you meted justice as the Lance machine dispenses cap'n's wafers. But we implore you to reconsider in the matter of our Washington Nationals. Haven't you extended your long-arm justice a mile beyond a scintilla too far? These penitent, patient souls wait for DC baseball for thirty-four years, and you bestow upon them Cristian Guzman? Accursed! Please pluck the fruit from that poisonous tree.

Kyrios Pythagorus: We know you don't give a crap about baseball, but some people say you do and they've bogarted your theorem and . . . well, you'll never guess how well they've got this damned thing to work. Take back the night, righteous dude. Restore to us our first-half bliss.

If need be, we will petition the entire pantheon en banc, wherein Mr. Doubleday, among others, will also hear our plea, unless he can't because he's the fraud everyone knows he is. At any rate, we need your aid in this desperate hour. Our Nats have now lost eight straight one-run games, and celebrating one-run victories was what made us special and distinctive, sort of like John Tesh creating the NBA-on-NBC theme song.

Our identity, our joy, our reason for being . . . sirs, we feel replete with emptiness. Act quick, or we will think of more oxymorons.

PS: We considered more conventional means to express our devotion, but even St. Barry is beyond our reach at the moment. While you're dishing out the good stuff to us (fingers crossed), please deliver our patron saint from vacation, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Doubt is but the beginning, not the end, of wisdom

Yes, that's from a fortune cookie.

Is it applicable for us, the fans of our Washington Nationals, who dropped an excruciating 4-1, 14-inning decision to the Houston Astros earlier today? I don't know.

Here's the situation as of 11 pm ET on Sunday night:

Team    W   L   PCT   GB
Atl. 55 44 .556 --
Wash. 55 44 .556 --
Phil. 52 47 .525 3.0
Hou. 51 47 .520 3.5
NYM 51 47 .520 3.5
Fla. 49 47 .510 4.5
Chi. 49 48 .505 5.0

As we well know, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, the Mets, and Florida are all playing for two possible slots, whereas Houston and the Cubs have only one route in.

Let's forget Atlanta. They're tied with the Nats and, for all I know, will do what the Braves always do and surge late in the season. The Braves are immaterial, anyway. The Nats are holding at least a three-game lead on everyone relevant to their postseason hopes. It's these other teams we need to track.

If you asked me, given an even playing field and about a 60-65 game span, if the Nats are as good as any of those teams "below the fold," and I'd probably answer no. (Well, I have my doubts about the Cubs, who are currently blowing a game in St. Louis.) But that's not the situation: our team has a three-game cushion, at a minimum. That is certainly not a secure margin, but it is something with which to work.

Let's take the Phillies, since they are currently the closest competitor. Suppose the Nats went .500 the rest of the way; well, we can't suppose that. Okay, let's suppose they went 31-32 in their 63 remaining games. To force a wild card play-off (-in, really) game, the Phightin' Phils would have to go 34-29 the rest of the way, which is a .540 pace, which is better baseball than they've played to this point. It only gets (albeit marginally) tougher for the other "below the fold" teams. Unless one of the wild card competitors gets really hot, then even fairly mediocre play should keep the Nats in the hunt until the end.

I'll throw up a couple of caveats at this point:

1. As is their recent custom, the St. Louis Cardinals have pretty much run away with the NL Central. (That is why, in essence, more pressure is on the 'Stros and Cubbies.) The Cards are also fairly banged up. Fortunately or unfortunately for the Nats, the Astros and Cubs play the Cardinals in September. On the bright side, it is the Astros who have a lone three-game set. The Cubs, the Cards' traditional rivals, face off seven times---and I can't imagine the Cardinals rolling over for those games.

2. The NL East teams all play each other in a bunched-up, round-robin type format from here until the end. It's entirely possible that one or two teams could get hot and leave the others in their wake; in fact, in what can only be described as a dream sequence, I sort of predicted it.

Anyway, three games are three games; they'll only take you as far as you make them. Or, for a less-trite way of looking at it, what do the Nats need to do to make those three games hold up:

1. Acquire a bat.

There's absolutely no choice in the matter. In fact, the only limitations are organizational frugality, stubbornness, and immovable millstones. We're way, way beyond impotent at shortstop . . .

[Program alert: Speaking of which, Neifi Perez (Neifi Perez!) just hit a grand slam for the Cubs. A grand slam?!]

. . . but, outside of a purported and potentially dicey comeback attempt by Barry Larkin, is the team going to upgrade there? You'd have to think it, as Guzman's 2005 offensive limitations (now there's an understatement) have to be apparent even to Jim Bowden. Yet, if a shortstop with even a modicum of offensive sock were considered a priority, why is Bodes still making moves for outfielders? To place our hopes in a 41-year old who at any rate might not be in playing shape until it's too late makes about as much sense as believing Hans Gruber hijacked a building for the purpose of freeing some goons from the Asian Dawn and Liberte de Quebec. Yet, here we are. Either Bodes is derelict in his duties, or MLB has hung the franchise out to dry.

And what about third base? Vinny Castilla, defense aside, is now both old and bad. He's hurt and has straddled the line between able and disabled; in that sense, he hurt the team terribly in the Houston series, as he assumed an active roster spot but was not capable of anything resembling action---his attempts at such notwithstanding. It's sadly ironic that the other mid-level veteran free agent third baseman on the market this past winter (who, I will repeat, signed for less money and only one year) was desired by several members of Nats Nation and was just traded (I think?) to a contender. But we have no such luxury. Not even organizational alternatives are given a smidge of attention. Nope, if Castilla is deemed fit to play, he'll play---and play in a thoroughly mediocre offensive fashion, at that.

Scratch off shortstop and third base. Unless Larkin signs toot sweet and break-dances with Ponce de Leon, there is not likely to be an offensive upgrade at either position. What about catcher? Schnieder's not bad---no upgrade coming there. Second base? Vidro's in the lineup for his offense, though one couldn't tell from his recent performance. Outfield? You've got to be kidding; if Bodes acquires another, the Justice Department is going to start an antitrust probe.

First base? Hey, that's Nick Johnson's spot, and he's expected back in the lineup on Tuesday. Barring Barry, I am betting that Nick Johnson is our de facto offensive acquisition. (And even that entails a negative, as Ryan Church more than likely will grab some bench.)

2. Other stuff

I don't mean to be cursory here, but aside from acquiring another bullpen arm or picking up an "impact" starter to round out the rotation (the former being much more likely than the latter, especially given this team's finances), there's not much to add. Well, there is one more thing:


That about covers it, gang.

Can it be done? Can the Nats hang on? Sure. Is it likely? I'm starting to doubt it. Frankly, I feel foolish for being so sanguine just a matter of weeks ago.

Then again, doubt is only the beginning of wisdom. Some wise Chinese man once wrote that. Or maybe it was an unfeeling megacorp. Eh, close enough.

Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?

Chicago columnist opines Nats are done

From the desk of Phil Rogers:

---> The Livanster's agnst hasn't been ironed out, and it's directed at one Jim Bowden---well, maybe:

Hernandez clearly has had it with general manager Jim Bowden, although he's not talking about the cause of his anger.

---> Cristian Guzman stinks:

There's no hiding the Nationals' biggest problem, however, which has been the season-long fog surrounding shortstop Cristian Guzman.

---> Barry Larkin isn't coming back:

Bowden has been talking to his special assistant for two months, but so far Larkin is enjoying the plush feel of his couch. He's smart enough to know August isn't the time to get your hitting eye sharpened.

And that's all, folks; it was more of a blurb than a column. Let's just go ahead and insert the "Your mileage may vary, and probably will" caveat on this one, too. For one thing, it's published today but is already out of date. (Guzman's back in the lineup.)


At the other end of the Natty Nats spectrum, we have Richard Justice's Friday column in the Houston Chronicle. Justice's theme is that Nats' fever has spread pervasively, to the extent that fancy Georgetown dinner patryists huddle in the kitchen to watch the Nats on television. (At least they can watch on television!) The article has goosebumps-inducing quotes from Brad Wilkerson ("It's a privilege to play in an atmosphere like this") and Phil Wood ("I've got tears running down my cheeks during the national anthem. I look at the guy next to me, and he's crying, too.")

Actually, Justice goes a mite overboard on the theme. Oh sure, he mentions the recent slump and how the one-run magic is reversing itself. Still, . . . well, read:

Bowden did a terrific job rebuilding the roster with a $48 million payroll last winter. He spent wisely and got a third baseman (Vinny Castilla), shortstop (Cristian Guzman), outfielder (Jose Guillen) and starting pitcher (Esteban Loaiza).

You can debate the amount of credit to be distributed to Bodes, and you can advocate he deserves to stay on the beat when the new ownership is installed in 2176. But read the above paragraph---particularly the first two acquisitions---and you tell me if you'd use the modifier "wisely."

Justice hits the nostalgia angle on all fronts. Not only are there the sunny vignettes, but he helps rechannel our past unrequited hate:

And the suits who run baseball didn't want a team here. The Baltimore Orioles became a mega-franchise by drawing fans and television ratings from Washington.
Commissioner Bud Selig was opposed to baseball in Washington. And then he had no choice because the owners were forced to buy the Expos, and no other city came close to matching Washington's offer.

Ah, good times. Good times.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

What's a Hab?

So the National Hockey League (what?) became a topic of conversation over at Yuda's yesterday. I've been thinking--what with the NHL (what?) coming back and all---that it might be time to get into hockey a bit more. You know---get in on the ground floor while others ditch the thing. The corollary of it being uncool to like popular stuff is that it's cool to like unpopular stuff. And, seeing as how I once floated the idea of professional indoor volleyball as an NHL alternative over at Yuda's, I anticipate that elite North American professional hockey isn't going to get too popular overnight. So I'm cool; whew.

[And I knew I already had a place to go for all the news on the cool guy's NHL: thanks, Off Wing Opinion! I'm cool and informed!]

Okay, then I needed a team. I deliberated the topic in post No. 287 of the YudaChat linked above. Essentially, I boiled the choice down to two: Nashville (hockey in Nashville?) and Columbus (major league sports in Columbus?). Just as I was about to deem Columbus my pick (Gooooo, Blue Jackets!!!), Carl jumped in with post No. 290 and set me straight:

Basil, if you’re going to root for an out-of-market hockey team, I think it absolutely HAS to be a Canadian team. There are six to choose from. The Calgary Flames had a pretty good run last go-round, and have that Jarmoe Iginla guy. Or how about the tradition and pride
of Montreal, which would provide a Nats connection?

I hadn't thought of rooting for the Canadiens, but I was taken immediately by the sentiment of Carl's last sentence. It made sense and seemed appropriate, and I figured I should do my part to show my appreciation to Montreal for the Nats. So, in post No. 303, I declared:

Although the prospect of being a Columbus Blue Jackets diehard is alluring, I nevertheless decided that henceforth I shall root for the Montreal Canadiens.

And so it shall be.

Now, I don't know much about the team, but I've found a great website to alleviate that problem. Just scanning the roster (riddled, as I'm sure lots of other teams are, by restricted free agents), I see some familiar names: Jan Bulis, Jose Theodore, Richard Zednik, and Radek Bonk (cool name). I don't know who Marcel Hossa is, but I hope he remains with the team so I can call him "Marcel the Monkey".

The team presidency seems to be in good shape, too; in fact, when I grow up (as a hockey fan), I'm going to Pierre Boivin University!

[And, no, I didn't pick the Canadiens just so I could make that joke.]


My favorite favorite team, the Washington Nationals, are still playing, of course---so, in the meantime, I'll still focus on them. No worries there, mates. Since I last checked in, the Nats had the crunk beaten out of them---which is bad---but then bounced back for a victory tonight---which is good.

Like I said Thursday night: if we lose to Clemens, then we lose to Clemens. So what? And we definitely lost to Clemens. That's to be expected, and in that sense our boys really exceeded expectations.

But our season started anew tonight at 54-43, and the Nats responded in kind. Tomorrow, it's Patterson versus some fifth starter dude named Wandy. I'm feeling confident about that, and to split a four-game series with the two losses coming at the hands of Mssrs. Oswalt and Clemens is not ignominious in the least.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Oh, thaaaaaaaat . . .

Get a load of this:

Once he calmed down, Livan Hernandez wanted to make a few things clear Thursday: He won't have knee surgery until after the season, he will keep taking the mound every five days, even in pain, and he would never quit on his club. A day after saying during a rambling postgame interview session that he was thinking about having an operation, the Washington Nationals' ace unleashed a profanity-laced tirade at reporters in the RFK Stadium home clubhouse before Thursday night's game against Houston. The gist of his several-minute outburst Thursday was that his comments about being ``99.9 percent'' sure he might have season-ending surgery and ``I'm done, I think'' after Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the NL-worst Colorado Rockies came in the heat of the moment and weren't reported accurately.

Frustrated . . . knee hurts . . . blowing off a little steam . . . nothing to see, boys, nothing to see.

I am waiting with bated breath for that thing he's going to tell all of us after the season's over. What? The offer's no good? Aw . . .

[Note: Ray Ratto of some San Fran rag and an occasional gig has penned a column on the Livanster over at the Four Letter Website. As it makes Cristian Guzman's bat seem substantial by comparison, I'm not even going to bother with the link. But here's the gist: What makes Livan tick? I don't know; he's sort of goofy.]


I do not believe it impertinent to suggest that the Washington Nationals are in a tail spin. Where have our beloved Natty Nats from yester-month gone to hide? Not at RFK Stadium, that's for damned sure. The Colorado series sealed that, and it was fairly miraculous that the Nats only lost by one run to the Houston Astros and Roy Oswalt tonight.

We are in the midst of an object lesson, my friends: never presume you are the exception. Pythagorus is chomp-chomp-chomping his way back into our lives, and there's not much we can do about it. The Nats are 7-10 this month, yet their run differential (58-to-61) is little different than what it was when they were on a 100-win pace. Call it failure to perform in the clutch, call it sloppiness, call it bad luck---but don't call it suck, because they're not getting blown out. Nope; the Nats are losing the close games---our vaunted "one-run decisions," in stark contrast to the first half of the season.

The Nats have wasted a team ERA of just over three this month. The offense, of course, is coming just short of keeping pace with the grace the excellent pitching has provided; combine that anemic performance with a vast increase in the team's rate of boneheadedness, and the Nats are losing the close games they were winning before.

Or maybe they're just unlucky, whereas they had been lucky before. Or maybe it's some of both, or one is the easy explanation of the other. Or maybe it just doesn't matter.

I get the sense that, when viewed in context, the team isn't vastly diferent in quality than it was when it ran off that great month-plus of baseball. Certainly, the offense is worse---and that's sort of saying something---but the pitching is keeping things close, as noted. However, the feel of the team is completely different. They look inept and they don't have that "swagger" or "bounce" they did round about early June. Even in this slide, they're still a decent-looking team, not really being embarrassed by the opposition. But things have changed. Remember that game against the Cubs where the bullpen blew two leads but the Nats still won on Schnieder's homer?

How could I forget, right? I'm quickly forgetting the feeling, and that's precisely the point.


I'm not one to judge the manliness or grit of a ballplayer, and I'm not going to do that here. But I will say that, although I have held out of this advocacy for awhile now, the Nats need Nick Johnson in the worst way. He has to come back soon; there's just no choice in the matter.


All that said, I'm going to close by getting to the heart of the matter. By default, the Braves tied us today. Chances are they'll shoot on by soon enough. That's fine. We're still four-and-a-half up in the wild card. Clemens pitches tomorrow; odds are it'll be three-and-a-half this time tomorrow night. And that's fine. That's when the rest of the season will begin: 54-43, with 65 games until the playoffs and a modest cushion.

So what does all that mean?

I haven't the faintest idea, except apparently "it's not the knee"---even though Hernandez seems willing to float the knee as a pretext to end his season and, yes, to quit on his team . . . even though Hernandez claims he won't quit on the team. Insofar as I am running out of quasi-grammatical conventions denoting asides or contradictions, I had better stop analyzing while I'm ahead.

Chris advises us to ease our worried minds a bit, and the advice is probably well-taken. He surmises that Hernandez is merely venting, and any of a confluence of factors set him off. But it probably has something to do with Frank Robinson.

Nationalz takes a different approach and points (admittedly, with conjecture as the guide) at a certain Mr. Tough Guy on the team as the source of Hernandez's ire.

Nationals Gallery freely admits what we all feel here: a near-complete cluelessness over this.

Nationals Interest lines up in the "blowing off steam" column but takes Hernandez to task for the ramifications of his words, if they're more than a threat.

And so forth. We're all concerned and we're all confused. Whatever the cause and whatever the result (we'll just have to wait until tonight, eh?), Rocket probably sums the whole thing up in a pithy, Natospherical manner: ¡Not good!


I want you to take a look at the second "" excerpt in the previous post ("The Joint Appendix"). Now compare it to this quote from the Associated Press account of Hernandez's tirade (linked from Baseball Primer because the ESPN link won't convert on my Blogger template):

"I’m not happy for three years. After the season, I’m going to tell you” why, said Hernandez, 12-4 with a 3.44 ERA and the unquestioned staff ace. “It’s 99.9 percent I’m not going to pitch no more” this season, he said.

(emphasis added)

Now, I'm not going to accuse "Rocket Bill" Ladson of willfully doctoring Hernandez's quote, even though his reporting in the past has seemed to skirt the line between accuracy and advocacy. And, truth be told, in his article Rocket Bill is really quick to counter any notion that Hernandez and the organization have had anything but a slappy-happy coexistence:

Hernandez being unhappy with the Nationals comes as a complete surprise. He has often expressed how much he has enjoyed playing for the organization. In fact, he said that the 2003 season, his first
year with the Expos, was his happiest in baseball -- this from a player who was the World Series MVP in 1997 with the Marlins and a Fall Classic participant with the Giants in 2002. He often talked about how the Nationals/Expos have left him alone and allowed him to pitch in peace.

It's a curious paragraph, because Ladson has Hernandez on record as saying he's "happy" with the organization; why stack up an argument to prove it? Nevertheless, Hernandez obviously has some "language barrier" issues and his rant was anything but a sequential run-down of his grievances last night, so it's best to give Rocket Bill the benefit of the doubt. Heck, for all I know, he could have been the one to get the quote right. After all, Hernandez did re-sign with the team, no? [Late edit: Furthermore, the WaPo story quotes Hernandez as saying he plays for "the best organization," so inconsistency abounds. I'd conclude that either Ladson got the quote wrong, but is justified for being confused by Hernandez's stream-of-consciousness, or the AP got it wrong.]

At any rate, the quote sets up a three-year time frame. Frank Robinson has been his manager during that entire window, and it's reasonable at least to speculate that Robinson is a cause for Hernandez's consternation. Lord only knows other pitchers have had run-ins with Robinson, and how many more times will the "[Ohka or Day] is a bad guy" analysis fly? At a certain point, we might start to believe we have a Mt. Piniella situation on our hands.

Still, I wonder what's the score. Anecdotal evidence is as probative as its beholder allows it to be, but I did find this blog entry from not even two weeks ago to be interesting:

What was interesting about the whole affair is that when he reached the mound and took Hernandez's ball, he smiled, patted Hernandez chest with the back of his hand. This caused Hernandez, who knew he hadn't done great, to smile in return. They looked like they hadn't a
care in the world, and I imagined Robinson saying like a father to a son: "Hey, you can't win all of them, eh? Losing's good for you." Even then, they remained on the mound for what seemed like an interminable time, smiling and exchanging unknown words. It was incredible because it lasted nearly half a minute, an eternity compared with the speed with which most managers relieve their

The Joint Appendix

Here are just the quotes ascribed to ¡LIVAN! by the three major Nats' beat writers, following a bizarre, unexpected rant that ranks up there with "Playoffs?! PLAYOFFS??!!!" and "It's practice, man, we're talkin' about practice!":

"There is no decision right now. I'm going to make it tomorrow," said Hernandez. "I'm going to sleep tonight. I'm going to think about it, and we'll see. I'm not going to have any more MRIs. I'm not going to do nothing. I'm going to go straight to the point and that's it. It's
only one percent that I will not [have surgery]. It's not easy to make that decision. I love this team. You know I never quit."

Regarding his anger, Hernandez said, "I've been happy [with this franchise] for three years. This is the best organization. After the season, I'm going to tell you something. Don't worry, I'm going to
tell you."

"The slider was running inside too much. The hitters think it was a fastball, and they were moving in too quick. I hit four people, and that has never happened to me before," he said.

"I pitched good. The guy hit a good pitch and hit a home run. It wasn't a bad pitch," said Hernandez. "The ball was inside, and the guy was looking for that pitch, and he hit it good."

Washington Times:

"Something's bothering me, but it's not my knee," Hernandez said. "I'll tell you after the season."

"I will make [the decision] tomorrow," he said. "I will go to sleep tonight, think about it and then we'll see."

"It's hard for me, believe me," he said. "It's not easy for me. I love my teammates. I love this team. They're not going to quit. Everyone in the organization knows I'm going to do my best."

Washington Post:

"I'm not going to say nothing," Hernandez said. " . . . And this is the best organization. After the season, I'm going to tell you something. Don't worry about it."

"The knee is okay," Hernandez said. "I not say nothing about my knee is hurt. Nothing. I don't say nothing about my knee."

"Listen, it's hard for me," Hernandez said. "You think it's easy, but it's not easy. It's not easy for me to make the decision. It's not easy. I love my teammates. I love this team. You know I would never quit. Never. Because I am not a quitter. Everybody knows me. I go over there and do my best."

"When I come to the stadium tomorrow, I will see," Hernandez said. "I go to sleep tonight, I'm going to think about it. And that's it."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Day of the Locusts

So, I was going to mark my return from the police drama genre (initial three-episode run commissioned by the network) with something upbeat, perhaps something informative---heck, maybe even something evaluative. I was thinking about singing the praises of ¡LIVAN! or noting how much I like Preston Wilson's elongated sideburns or composing a jangly ballad dedicated to Bodes. And then, time permitting, I'd get around to discussing today's momentous transactions or pen a thorough analysis of such or even mull some intriguing speculation regarding a move that . . .

Oh, who am I kidding? The Colorado Rockies just beat the Nats. Yeah, again! Those mile high morons took two out of three from our Natty Nats---in RFK! No one does that; RFK's like hallowed ground for the UnderArmour set! The Nats were absolutely impervious there . . . just a few weeks ago!

And, if you think the previous paragraph had far too many exclamation points (and it did!!!!), consider that the Rox just won their first road series tonight---all freakin' year! It's true! When those chuckleheads limped into DC two nights ago, no one had heard of John Roberts . . . and the Rox had seven road wins. For the whole season! That's like a Charlotte Bobcat stat, man.

Well, things do change quickly, don't they, and now these gimps have nine road wins. How nice. You think I'm being hard on the Rockies here? Pfft. They can barely throw the ball to one another, and I'm not even considering accuracy. The whole team has Mackey Sasser Syndrome. The catcher throws around-the-horn on a strikeout, and the ball ends up in left field. The pitcher wants to change out a baseball, and his toss back to the catcher ends up at the backstop. We all thought B.J. Kim was being wily the other night with that wild pitch thing; turns out he's just a member of the Colorado Rockies.

Maybe some of the Nats' players want in on that action; if so, I'd almost recommend acceding to their wishes, because this brand of baseball royally sucked. In the first inning tonight, Jose Vidro laced a double to right-center. The Rockies, as is their common plan and scheme, fumbled the ball; the relay toss never made it, and the ball literally rolled toward third base. Meanwhile, Vidro---apparently forgetting that he's allowed, under the rules of baseball, to stop at second---kept running. So, here's this baseball just pathetically rolling across the infield diamond . . . and I do mean pathetically---I recall executing a similar manuever in a drunken game of bocce ball with some friends late one night . . .

. . . and the third baseman is running to meet the ball, and he gets there in time to scoop the ball and tag Vidro, who is just galavanting by like he's fixated on (dearly departed) Wil Cordero's biceps or something.

I wrote the previous paragraph-and-a-sentence badly on purpose; really, I did! Why did I shift tenses in there? I dunno . . . just 'cuz. But guess what? Put the Nats' play tonight and the previous paragraph-and-a-sentence on a common evaluative scale, and what results is the King James Bible.

And this crap was matched two nights previously! (Special thanks to John Patterson last night's effort, by the way. And the four-run outburst---positively Vesuvian!)

Well, this long ago turned into a rant---and if it's not about Peter Angelos, I rarely find the motivation to rant. So just pick up the remote and see if any of my colleagues have anything more reasonable to say . . .

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Oldski Files: Tightening the Screws

Savalaga: [noticing Cappy walk over to his diner booth with a measured subtlety] Franco!

Cappy: [palms raised] Keep it down, will ya?

Savalaga: Sure, Franco, sure. [pointing to the bench opposite to him] Come on, sit down for a minute. . . . Good. What can I get for you? Ginger ale? Root beer? How 'bout a root beer? Oh, and Maxine makes the best lemon pud---

Cappy: Enough. You didn't pull me out to this dive in the middle of the night to try some broad's lem'n puddin'.

Savalaga: [coy expression]

Cappy: Give me all you got.

Savalaga: [serious, but with a hint of reporter's satisfaction] I got a lot, Franco.

Cappy: [slight smile, playing clueless] Like what?

Savalaga: Like extreme incompetence on the street beat.

Cappy: You've got nothing.

Savalaga: [leaning closer] How's Oldski these days, Franco?

Cappy: [silence]

Savalaga: You know what I have. Department statistics. Personal observations. Tales of futility that would make your grandma cross herself five minutes just to feel clean again.

Cappy: Who's the canary?

Savalaga: Does it matter? It's as plain as day. [points, tries to get the waitress's attention; unsuccessful, he leans back in the booth] Journalists don't reveal their sources anyway. [broad grin]

Cappy: So what's the score?

Savalaga: Tomorrow's headline is going to read "INCOMPETENCE, INACTION AT NAT CITY PD." How would you like that headline to change between now and tomorrow?

Cappy: I've got a lot of pull downtown with the boys, Savalaga. I've been around, and I've got a big name.

Savalaga: I know you do, Franco. And I like you, I really do. [picks at a fingernail for a moment] I can hold off the heat for awhile, but you've gotta take him out.

Cappy: And?

Savalaga: [attention back to the fingernail] And . . . I scratch your back, maybe someday you scratch mine.

Cappy: [ponders] Alright. Oldski won't like it---

Savalaga: They never do . . .

Cappy: ---but if that's what needs to be done. But I need to be careful here.

Savalaga: Mix things up, Franco. Make it part of a larger lineup shuffle. Tell him it's just temporary and he can sub in a pinch when you need him.

Cappy: I've been a captain since you were in diapers, Savalaga. I know how it's done.

Savalaga: I'm sure you do, Franco. I'm sure you do. [upfolding himself from the booth] Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got reporter things to do.

Cappy: I'm sure you do.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Oldski Files: One Stubborn Cap'n

[a knock on the door]

Cappy: [torn away from files] Yeah.

Buck: [tentatively easing the door open, slowly leaning into the doorway] Cap'n?

Cappy: Yeah. [gruff]

Buck: Got a minute?

Cappy: I know what you want Buck. [uneasy tension, waving motion] Get in here. Shut the door. [tosses his file on the desk] Sit down, Buck.

Buck: Thank you, Cap'n. It's about Oldski, sir.

Cappy: The answer is no, Buck.

Buck: No?

Cappy: No. I'm not benching him.

Buck: [growing exasperation on his face] Oldski's a liability.

Cappy: Oldski's been around the block, Buck. [stern eyes] He's been dropping dirtbags since you were in diapers.

Buck: Yes sir, but . . .

Cappy: He's got experience, Buck. He's a Proven Veteran. We need guys like that on the streets----everyday.

Buck: Sir. [with bewilderment] You should see him out there . . .

Cappy: [pounding his desk] Damnit, Buck! Listen to me! [calming a bit] You're a loose cannon. And frankly . . . I don't trust you. You need Oldski out there.

Buck: Sir . . . today, we were at the range, and he dropped his gun. More than once. Then he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

Cappy: He's just pressing. You're putting too much pressure on him, Buck.

Buck: I'm carrying him, Cap'n. The whole lot of us . . . [looks Cappy in the eyes] We're all carrying him, and he's not pulling his weight. People are talking.

Cappy: [returning the stare] The answer is no. You wanna talk about the artificial hip? It can't be that big of a difference. No, we need him.

Buck: Sir . . .

Cappy: [picking up a file, speaking in a mocking tone] Don't mess with the big dog, Buck. The big dog has bite.

Buck: [resigned] Yes sir.

Cappy: Now get out of my sight.

One tired cop

Buck: "Ah, there's the creep. Come on!"

Oldski: "You go that way. I'll cut him off around the corner at the next block."

Buck: "Right."

[chase on foot]

Buck: "Damnit, Oldski. Where the hell are you?" [peers around the corner]

Oldski: [panting and half-jogging] "He's . . . too . . . fast."

Buck: "You never even made it to the corner!"

Oldski: "I got a . . . good look at him . . . though."

Buck: "As he ran right past you."

Oldski: "He was . . . fast. Ugh, my chu-est . . . "

Buck: "Should've had that one."

Oldski: "Win some . . . lose . . . some. [hunches over a bit more] Ugh."

Buck: "You know, Oldski, I think maybe you need to hit the bench some. Maybe take a desk job. I know how Millie gets worried."

Oldski: [straightening up, trying to hide discomfort, speaking with a defensive nonchalance] "Nah, Millie worries. That's just the way she is. She's a worrier. Always has been."

Buck: "Look, Oldski. All I'm saying is that maybe you can't do this job anymore. You know: everyday---out on the street."

Oldski: "That's crazy talk. Everyone knows I'm a street cop. I know I'm not a bench jockey."

Buck: "Suit yourself. But wait 'til brass hears about this one."

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