Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inside the Park Homeruns and More

The Nats were drowning in quicksand. Quicksand, as you may remember from the Reeves epic "The Replacements" is when a team continues to self-destruct at the slightest hint of adversity. The team was, and still is, teetering on the bring of becoming quickly irrelevant and forgotten. Players had come into this season expecting to win, and were granted with a brief taste of success. Of course, the Nationals are not a deep talented team equipped to remain in the Wild Card hunt all year. However, as a professional athlete in any sport, the paramount goal is to win the competition, leave it all on the field.

The 2008 and 2009 Washington Nationals knew out of the gate that they sucked... the players themselves couldn't pinpoint why they sucked, and nobody wanted to buy into Manny Acta's philosophies, so nobody improved. This season, the character issues improved, and despite a slow start, the Nats won a few games and found themselves promoted from laughingstock to darkhorse. With the change in expectations will also come a sense of urgency.

There are a few ways to look at Nyjer Morgan's recent adventures. First, he is not hitting well, and therefore not on base as often. Not being on base as often has pressed him into stealing a high percentage of the time, thereby tipping his hand on opportunities. Nyjer Morgan has not been contributing much from an offensive standpoint. Morgan has, until recently, been a reliable, rangy outfielder. However, with both pitching and offense struggling for a team losing a grip on its position in the standings, Tony Plush tightened up and tried to make plays that weren't quite there. And while spiking the glove in frustration is unprofessional, it exemplifies that he knew how important making that catch was. Nobody is "showing up" their teammates here, and Nyjer Morgan is more embarrassed than he would have been had the ball careened off his head for a home run. Had he turned and picked up the ball and tossed it in, it is likely that neither run would have scored on the play. Benching isn't the answer here...

But they need to stay focused. Ryan Zimmerman had great all around game, except for a heinous baserunning blunder that created a double play and allowed the O's to walk Willingham with Guzman on second. I get frustrated when our co-ed rec softball team makes these mental mistakes. The worst thing you can do on offense is make an out. Outs are precious commodities, and at that point in the 8th inning, Zim needs to know that they only have a few left. With the lead, he needs to run a little more defensively, and hopefully the next guy plates him. Yes, Zimmerman has probably been stranded at 3rd base a high percentage of the time than anyone in the league (seriously, I think I may find a way to look this up), but trying to score from first on a line drive from center only works if you don't sprint past Guzman on second.

Fortunately, none of this mularkey amounted to much, as Walker, Burnett, Clippard, and Capps were lights out in the rain, retiring eleven of the twelve batters faced. Clippard and Burnett have been relegated to "second-banana" status with the arrival of Drew Storen, but proved today that it does take 25 working parts to win ballgames consistently.

The Nationals escaped the quicksand this time, and now everyone holds their breath for the arrival of the US Air shuttle from Syracuse, the cargo of which is the future of the franchise.

* Keanu Reeves, American Visionary, Time Traveler, Failed and Redeemed Quarterback, Space Contortionist, and Eff-Bee-Eye Agent

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