Sunday, September 11, 2005

The illusion never fades into something real . . .

. . . and I can't remember the rest of the song---which is no great loss, since it was an insubstantial late-90s pop song. There was something about the Australian lady "lying naked on the floor," and that admittedly is a more intriguing concept than the rest of the Washington Nationals' season, in all likelihood.

Ah yes, there was also something about being "all out of faith." And that---finally, lamentably, inexorably---is the only reasonable posture to take with respect to the Nats' wild card hopes, after
this afternoon's heartbreaking loss to the Atlanta Braves. The postseason? An illusion. A winning season? Now, maybe that'll be something real.

The illusion has been a persistent one, I'll give it that. Pick a random date, progress week-by-week or so thereafter, and you'll see:

---> On July 24, the Nats were tied for the wild card lead (and the NL East lead).
---> On July 31, the Nats trailed in the wild card race by 2.0 games.
---> On August 7, the Nats trailed by 2.0 games.
---> On August 14, the Nats trailed by 1.0 game.
---> On August 21, the Nats trailed by 1.5 games.
---> On August 28, the Nats trailed by 2.5 games.
---> On September 4, the Nats trailed by 2.0 games.
---> And on September 11, the Nats trail by 4.0 games.

How can you call your team out of a race when it (until the last few days) never dips more than a field goal out of the lead? In a sense, you can't. And, in another sense, you couldn't; the Nats had all those late-season home games in-hand, as Thomas Boswell kept reminding us. The home games could well coincide with the end of the Nats' "dry spell" (to use the term Boz inexplicably used to describe July and August), and this improbable season of joy might well continue past October 2 unabated.

The home games, of course, have largely been duds. Yet, as with Friday night's games, there have been just enough salvationary moments to keep the faith alive; well, those and rather inexplicable recent crunk-ups by Philly (mid-week) and Houston (this weekend). Even now, it's still theoretically possible to noodle a final, super-attenuated last-stand scenario for the Nats, which includes a lot of fringe considerations (including the Marlins perhaps needing to sweep the Astros in Houston) but basically boils down to the Nats turning into Robo-Cop for these final 18 games.

But don't.

It's not going to happen, folks---and not even a big win or even a thrilling in-game comeback (as today's certainly qualified) is going to change the evaluation this time. It's lamentably simple:

1) The frontrunners have games-in-hand on the Nats, which is a deficit when the Nats truly need that luxury.

More importantly, however,

2) The Nats aren't capable of sweeping-out an opponent, like Florida on the road in the final week or Philly at home to end the season.

So we can't put off the inevitable any longer. We've used up "we'll get 'em in September, with all those home games." That reasoning ended with a 4-6 homestand, when the Nats really needed at least the reverse.

Remember June fondly, but don't rely on it. June is not going to rematerialize and rescue the season. June's over, and the season soon will be, too.

But what a season it's been.


One note on today's loss, in which the Nats wrestled victory from the jaws of defeat but lost anyway, as
Chad Cordero surrendered back-to-back homers to the Jones Boys and blew his third save against Atlanta:

There are two outs in the top of the ninth, and pinch-runner Pete Orr stands on first base. The Chief has fallen behind Chipper Jones, two balls and no strikes. Andruw Jones, who's hit more homers before 9 a.m. than your average slugger does all day, stands on deck. You lead by one run.

What do you do?

---> do you walk Larry Wayne, who despite his injury year is still pretty potent (better OPS than Andruw) and has the platoon advantage on the Chief?
---> and, if so, you know you've just put the potential winning run on base, right?
---> but you're not going to pitch to Andruw, right?
---> if not, you know you just loaded the bases, right?
---> and, in so doing, you know you've just put that winning run in second position for Todd Hollandsworth, who also has the platoon advantage, right?

You pitch to Chipper, don't you?

Yes, you do.

Besides if you have an A #1 closer, you pretty much let him pitch to anyone.

It is only unfortunate that our A #1 closer pitched himself into a situation where the batter had something like a 700-800 SLG if he made contact. Or 4.000, as the case may be . . .

(I ask because I recall seeing message board criticism of yesterday's ninth, but you can't walk yourself into facing Andruw Jones, and you can't very well walk yourself into facing the bases loaded.)
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