Monday, April 30, 2007

It's A Dull and Rusty Razor

Do I pick these players because they need to someone to argue for them, or do they need someone to argue for them because I pick them? I don't know what it is, but as soon as I stopped worrying about Ryan Church, things started to go well for him. The moment I declared my allegiance to Chris Snelling . . . well, you can't say his luck's gotten worse, but he has endured a string of setbacks at the hands of the front office. Over the last couple weeks, he's been losing starts in left field to the likes of Michael Restovich and Robert Fick, the latter of whom proves conclusively -- as if we needed any more evidence -- that a gritty, scrappy attitude and left-handedness can get you a long way baseball, even if that's pretty much all you've got going for you.

Now we've got Kory Casto, already vanquished once in this positional war, back from AAA. This move comes, of course, just as I'd forgotten how to spell his name. It also comes as Snelling isn't hitting. He's down to a Guzmanian .208 average, and he's not making up for it with power. What he is doing is getting on base, with his antipodean mixture of walks and hit by pitches giving him a more than respectable .367 OBP. And that's part of what makes me think Snelling should be playing every day -- his batting can't not go up. There's no way he keeps hitting .208, and when he snaps out of it, that tasty on base percentage is a nice foundation to build on.

Manny Acta sees it differently, though: Casto is going to play every day until the little-missed Nook Logan comes back, whereupon he becomes the fourth outfielder. Snelling, out of options and therefore un-Columbusable, gets to sit on the bench and wonder why he went through all that rehab.

This may well be the right decision for the team, but who's pretending to care about that? Not the front office, that's for sure. At this point, it's every Nat for himself and every blogger for his Nat, so I don't feel too bad in hoping that Casto and the three or four other outfielders I need out of the way fail miserably.

We dropped the series with the Mets, which is predictable, but at least we got some nice pitching out of it. Jerome Williams, who was responsible for six innings of it, is on the DL now, but I didn't feel the need to put an "unfortunately" on the beginning of this sentence, which only now have come to the end of. For one thing, six innings of no runs doesn't mean he doesn't suck. More importantly, watching this guy work is pure torture. There's already far too much Steve Trachsel on the MASN family of networks, and I have no desire to watch a Hawaiian Steve Trachsel imitator take three hours to get through five innings.

A word on Tony Randazzo, the umpire who possibly cost us the rubber match with the Mets. Maybe you remember -- in the seventh, down a run and with a man on second, Snelling and Fick came up to hit. They thought they were playing baseball, but Randazzo without warning switched the game to single player Random Strike Call, and they both struck out. Keep in mind, though, that the night before he blew a double play call that let us score a run. It didn't give us a win, but it did make us take a long time to lose, and that's something. Maybe he was trying to make up for his gaffe on Sunday, or maybe -- and Occam's holding a razor to my neck and telling me that this is the explanation -- he's just not very good at his job.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Also Miss Deivi Cruz and Keith Osik

This is no fun at all. Brian Schneider's losing balls everywhere you could think of, including under his own, and Robert Fick is not only starting over Chris Snelling but making the kind of mistakes that would get Ryan Church benched, suspended, demoted, and maybe executed.

So, last night. That's the kind of game you have to win to get out of last place. We're not going to get out of last place, so we didn't win. And vice versa.

It's a shame to waste such an effective start by Jay Bergmann, but that's one of the nice things about this team: expectations are so low and accomplishments are so modest that a heartfelt but metaphorical pat on the butt and and a "good effort, kid" are all that's really merited or forthcoming. I mean, it's not like we wasted a no-hitter or anything.

Over at teh Journal, Barry Svrluga asked some questions.
1. Who is the former National you miss the most?
2. Who is the National acquired in a trade or free agency who you most like?
3. What deal would you most like to see undone?
1. ¡Livan!, obviously. I don't know what makes me miss him more: watching another four-inning start from some 25-year-old I'd never heard of before March, or realizing that Church, Bergmann, Zimmerman, and all the other fresh-faced white kids stuttering through the same old cliches might as well all be the same person.

2. Chris Snelling. That's all covered right here.

3. One of the first ones: Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis for Jose Guillen. I know you all loved Guillen because he hit a little bit and yelled at Angels, but he's a bad person and a pain in the ass, and better he does the more convinced I am that there's no justice in the world. Plus he didn't do a damn thing for about 7/12 of his Nats career.

Rivera and Izturis aren't All Stars and they keep getting hurt, but they both had very good 2006s and cost less together than Guillen did alone. Furthermore, retaining Izturis would have meant that Cristian Guzman wouldn't be getting four bills a year from us to hurt the team by playing or hurt the team slightly less by getting injured, AND there's a better than even chance that we would have gotten to watch Barry Larkin's farewell tour in a Nationals uniform. No Guillen or Guzman? If you gave me a time machine and a choice to go back and stop Hitler or go back and stop this trade, I'd have to think about it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Will's Corner

The corner Will Carroll's painted himself into keeps getting smaller. Ever since he first "discovered" the gyroball (i.e., looked at the pictures in a book he couldn't read), he's had to walk back expectations of it as qualified, scrupulous experts have horned in on his turf.

The most direct, embarrassing setback came when Daisuke Matsuzaka himself denied throwing the thing, and things have only gotten worse since then. The problem is that Matsuzaka signed with Boston, and the Red Sox are always on national TV. Thus we -- not to mention Orel Hershiser, Joe Morgan, and all the other professionals in ESPN's employ -- can judge for ourselves. Hell, with all the technology we've got on the internet tubes nowadays, it's be easy!

NOT SO FAST, YOU COPYRIGHT INFRINGERS! Will would love to break it down for you, show you in slow motion that Daisuke's a liar and Will was right along, but . . .
See those pretty pictures on the front page? They cost money. Video? Way more. If we doubled subscription prices and ad rates, we’d have almost enough.
Will cares about nothing more than his credibility, but he's not about to post or even link to something on Youtube that's copyrighted, even if it would prove him right. Will wants you to see it, but a law's a law, which you'd probably understand if you weren't staring slack-jawed at "pretty pictures."

Here I am setting myself for a lecture from Will and doing his job for him. Here's a gyroball video that's helpfully translated so Will doesn't have to beg someone to figure out what it says for him. There's got to be gyroball somewhere in here, right? I mean, there would be if Matsuzaka actually threw it. And here's a video that's, like, nothing but science. I'm sure a fully qualified expert like Will could glean some gyriffic info from that.

Finally, here's what looks like Bob Wickman awkwardly talking into a webcam. Looks can be deceiving, though, because it's actually Will Carroll talking awkwardly into a webcam.

Note where he mentions that Daisuke's "every game last year was available on the web." I know it would take a lot fact-checking and actual reporting to get through them all, not to mention cutting into time allotted to posting the wildly popular Baseball Prospectus Video Unfiltered programs that have been burning up Youtube, but the world needs to know what the world's foremost expert on imaginary pitches has to say about this one.

I will say, though, that Will and I have something in common: disdain for his fans and correspondents. See at the end of the post how a friendly inquiry on a subject Will's staked out as his specialty gets you not only a condescending crack about pretty pictures, but also some simultaneously pious and smart-assed demands for increased awareness of universally ignored law. Will respects his fans just as much as I respect Will's fans.

Monday, April 23, 2007

David Halberstam, R.I.P.

I was saddened this afternoon to hear of the passing of author David Halberstam. In an eerie coincidence, I had this very morning picked up Summer of '49 -- by no means for the first time -- to read on my commute.

Halberstam was best known for his political writing -- Vietnam, Kennedys, that kind of thing. That's how he got his Pulitzer, and that's what his obituaries will lead off with. I don't know anything about any of that, but let me explain briefly how I know he was a great writer: I hate the Yankees; I hate the Red Sox; I hate nostalgia. Summer of '49 is about the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the formative memories of Baby Boomers, and it's still one of my top five baseball books.

More satisfying if less accomplished is October 1964, a morality tale in which the good guys win because the Yankees are racists. I heartily recommend both and regret that there will never be another installment.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Slap A Fonzie On It

That was a rough weekend. I'm not talking about mine, which wasn't all that bad -- it looks like most of the charges are going to be dropped, and what the hell, I've always got that second kidney. I'm talking about the Nats, who have reverted to the frustrating ways of their first week.

I've commented once or twice that while the Nationals are losing a lot, they're doing so in a salubrious manner. Their scrappy, never-say-die performances teach the youth the importance of teamwork and good attitude. Their competence teaches the youth the importance of making sure not to humiliate yourself even if you have no hope of winning. And Ryan Church's performance teaches the youth that you can have a full, productive life even after Frank Robinson has called you names.

Now, however, I wouldn't recommend letting your kids watch these guys. Scrappiness doesn't do you a lot of good when you're losing by six runs twice in a row. Competence wasn't much in evidence when Matt Chico walked seven Marlins in 4.2 innings, or when Jerome Williams gave up nine runs in six. As for Ryan Church, well the honeymoon with his new manager lasted only 18 games. I'll get to that later.

The Nats have settled into last place with a clean, mechanical click; the right piece in the right hole. The sound resonated with finality. Maybe you heard it. We're home now, and we won't be leaving soon.

Ryan Church was yanked from Sunday's game with no explanation other than "he's not injured." Mark Zuckerman at the Times scooped everyone:
So Ryan was, in fact, benched by manager Manny Acta for not hustling down the line on his second-inning grounder today. Acta said he won't tolerate lack of effort, so he didn't hesitate to pull Church from the game and insert Chris Snelling in his place.
There comes a time when even Church's staunchest defenders have to concede that maybe there is some substance to all the complaints about his attitude. I'm not talking about me here -- I got to that point ages ago; I just don't care. A home run counts whether or not the guy hitting is a gritty, dirt-rubbing-in-it gamer. Brian Schneider not liking your look in the clubhouse is not, to my mind, a disqualification from the profession of baseball.
The Nationals' experience with Frank Robinson has led me to classify managerial discipline in two categories: Ohka Discipline and Soriano Discipline. The former is vindictive, the unprofessional action of an angry man. The latter is constructive, setting the tone for a successful team. Which is this? It could be because I like both the guys involved, but I'd say that it looks good so far. Acta hastens to point out that he's "a Ryan Church fan." Church is appropriately contrite: "I know I messed up. I got the message loud and clear. We'll leave it at that." This one gets a conditional Soriano.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Not Last

I'm going to be honest with you: I didn't stay up for this one. I went to bed after the 11th inning ended with, by my count, the five hundred twenty-fourth groundout with a man on second base.

As a battle for last place, though, it was perfect: epic, endless, boring, ignored. And we won! So bask in the glory of fourth place and try to forget that whole walking the pinch-hitting pitcher incident. It's all behind us, and we're guaranteed our spot in not-last at least until Friday night.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Like Shalamar in '81

I enjoyed the hell out of that baseball game. Yeah, we lost, but I've hardened myself to that eventuality, and there was a lot of good in this one.

The Virginia Tech caps were a perfect idea; a truly dignified tribute -- Washington Senator at the BPG board deserves a great deal of credit for this, as do the Nationals.

Chris Snelling, my new Ryan Church, was on fire: four times on base, including a triple. He had such a good game that Kory Casto had to go to Columbus to escape the shame of it all.

It was a tense game. The Nats got behind early, but got back into it thanks to the left side of Atlanta's infield suddenly displaying hands like Sonny Liston. In Renteria's case, I think we can chalk it up to Panda Express, and I'm sure you can come up with theories that explain what happened to Chipper.

The seventh inning was the game of base ball as it is played today at its best. Down one run and with men on 1st and 2nd, Ryan Zimmerman stepped in against Rafael Soriano, and they had themselves a classic one-on-one battle, with the RZA fouling off pitch after pitch until chasing a slider to strike out. Dmitri Young followed with an even better at-bat, fighting off pitches until he lined one into left field, only to have a perfectly-positioned Ryan Langerhans rob him of a game-tying double. It hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt. Character-building, you know?

The Nats lost, but at least we can blame it on Tom Boswell. If he really cared about the Nationals, he never would have written this bad hoodoo magnet of a column. But it's ok, really, because even though the Nats have lost a lot (the winning percentage stands at .286, and that's even after our recent "hot streak"), they've been in enough games long enough that it's not a soul-crushing chore to sit through them. This could change for the worse and probably will, so I'm enjoying it while I can.

Up next are the Phillies, who have been showing their brotherly love by keeping us out of last place. I doubt I'll be so magnanimous if we lose these.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Thanks, Jobu

Chris Snelling's radness and the public's awareness thereof continue to grow unabated. Barry Svrluga posted on his day off, which indicates that he's getting a little too into this whole blogging thing. The signs are all there: pleas for more comments and an unseemly interest in his own ranking within "teh community." Things may look bad for Svrluga's sanity, but good for us -- dude's a hell of a blogger, and if being behind the United blog prompts him to keep the content coming, then we -- the Nats fans -- win.

So anyway, Svrluga mentions a completely awesome play that Snelling pulled off in our win against the Mets on Saturday, when he conned overrated pretty boy David Wright into handing us a run.
With two outs in the fourth inning, Brian Schneider was on third and Snelling on second when Felipe Lopez hit a grounder to Mets third baseman David Wright. Snelling began running from second, and Wright kind of double-pumped the ball as he got it out of his glove. Lopez, hitting left-handed, was scooting down the line.

So Snelling thought to himself, "Oh, we can get a run here." He had taken off toward Wright, and Wright decided against throwing the ball across the infield, instead opting to tag out Snelling. "I was trying to get in a run-down," Snelling said, a hugely heads-up play. If Wright throws out Lopez at first, the run Schneider would score from third wouldn't count -- even if he crossed the plate before the out was recorded -- because it's a force play at first. But if Snelling gets tagged out -- not a force because runners were on second and third only -- the run would count if Schneider crossed the plate before Wright put the tag on Snelling.

So Snelling retreated toward second. Wright ran him down. "I didn't think I was in a run-down long enough," Snelling said. But he was. Schneider crossed the plate just before Wright put the tag on, and the Nationals went up 3-1.

I'm a smart guy, and that's too much for me to figure out. And I'm talking days later in the comfort of my den while I sit at my blogging desk in my smoking jacket and cravat holding a glass of cognac between my index and middle fingers -- I can't imagine figuring that all out in the microseconds Snelling had.


Above: This is what me contemplating Chris Snelling's baserunning would look like if I were a squirrel. Big ups to the master squirrel posers at Sugar Bush Squirrel. Please note the tiny bottle of Remy Martin to the right.

On the other end of the mind meets baseball spectrum is Chris Snelling's on base percentage. Needham notes that Snelling's OBP is impressive, especially when put up against his uninspiring batting average. But here's the thing: he's not walking all that often; he's getting on by letting pitches fly into his body. It's a simple, direct solution to the problem of not wasting outs. If I may engage in a little national stereotyping, it's an essentially Australian way of getting on base -- the baseball equivalent of making movies, making songs, and foightin' 'round the world.

Tonight's game - the last thing I was expecting. There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, another 12 in Japan, and a couple hundred more in Division I college ball, and the Nats are the last one that I would have thought could have toughed out as crappy a start as Matt Chico had tonight. Five innings, five walks, no strikeouts? That's a recipe for a blowout unless you have both skill and luck on your side, and the Nationals have been lacking in both.

Tonight it hinged, as always, on the fat guys. Ronnie Belliard dropped another one, but he did have a hit and a run, and Da Meathook made it a definite fat guy night with three hits, two doubles, and two driven in. When Jobu lets the fat guys contribute that much and lets the rookie starter get by unpunished with that kind of pitching line, it's pretty hopeless for the other team.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

To Franklinton

That weekend went pretty well. Yeah, we lost a game, but it wasn't humiliating, and I didn't see it anyway. Then we won one -- jacked a bunch of dingers and upheld the long-standing tradition of having Mets pitchers throw at us in April. Finally, El Nino stepped in and cancelled half the schedule, bringing with him two happy benefits: 1) We don't lose the series, and 2) We don't have to look at the Mets or their terrible stadium or their cheesy little moustaches for a while.

So it looks my yearly prayer to the baseball gods is paying off so far. I didn't ask for much -- requesting a World Series or 60 wins or something is hubristic and sure to end in disaster. Remember when Mo Vaughn fell into the dugout and messed up his ankle on his first play with Anaheim? That's because some Angels fan got ambitious and wished for an MVP. All I asked for was a .500 record against the Mets and a whole lot of Chris Snelling.

Above: A baseball god. Is very bad to drink his rum.

The gods saw to it that we're .500 against New York, and now they're looking after Snelling for me, too.
Manny Acta decided Thursday to make Chris Snelling his starting left fielder, a decision that has proven to pay off and could lead to Kory Casto's demotion to Class AAA Columbus.
After backing up Casto for most of the first two weeks of the season, Snelling was inserted into the lineup Thursday and has remained there since. And when he hit two-run homer and added an RBI groundout in yesterday's 6-2 win over the New York Mets, the 25-year-old outfielder further cemented his place with the Nationals for the immediate future.
I wonder why this wasn't the situation from the beginning of the year. Snelling and Kasto are the same age, and all indications are that the Aussie is a better player. Why were they so desperate for Casto to win out? I really don't know. Maybe they explained it while I was in Europe taking important photographs. I know they wanted to get Casto regular playing time, but this is (technically) a major league ballclub. If you need more time in the nursery before you can contribute, well, that's why Lucas Sullivant founded Columbus, Ohio.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"No, Not Really. I'm Just Here For the Cruise."

At the thankfully still going Nationals Journal, Barry Svrluga poses a question that I'm sure has been asked more than once in the trailers the Nats are operating out of: "Will you remain interested throughout the course of the summer?"

The responses to the post are positive, but that's to be expected. People who post on Nationals Journal are a subset of people who read it, who are themselves a subset of people who are interested enough in the Nats to go to the trouble of finding online discussion of them. The hardcores, in other words. It's like going on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cruise to Alaska and asking who likes Buffy.

My response to Svrluga's question . . . well, I know I resort to quoting Zhou Enlai far too often around here, but it's too soon to tell. I haven't made it through a whole season yet, but there are a couple of things working to make it possible that this is the first: 1) TV coverage the whole year. This is really, really important. B) Trust me, losing interest in an 81-win team only to be enthralled by an 18-win team is exactly the kind of thing I'd do. I think I'm a Dadaist at heart.

A helpful comparison can be made with the team forcing us to preempt BookTV, the Baltimore Orioles. The O's are bad, of course, and have been for a very long time. No hope to compete, little hope of a future, etc. I follow the Orioles, so I know what I'm talking about when I say that they're the worst kind of team to follow. They're going to win 70 games, but they aren't going to win 90. Last night I went to bed after the 10th inning -- I figured that if they lost, that's no reason to stay up. If they won, well that's just one of the not quite 81 they'll slog through. They lost, by the way.

The Nats, on the other hand -- Oh, the Nats! If they lose, it's comedy. Bunts into double plays, fat guys dropping balls, Disorderlies-style comedy. It's like Stan Kasten hired the Three Stooges to fix his plumbing in the middle of a hoity-toity dinner party! (And you're welcome for that link -- God bless the internet and all who sail on it.)

A win for the home nine, though, is a stunning upset, a do-you-believe-miracles once in a lifetime (well, once in a weektime at least) event. Every Nationals win should be commemorated with a bronze statue and an epic poem. The Nats' season is -- for lack of a more original metaphor -- a roller coaster ride of humiliating lows and lung-taxing highs. The Orioles' season is like getting up and going to work every day, and I get enough of that without having to listen to Jim Palmer talk about it.

UPDATE: I was thinking of hundreds of different ways the Nats could blow that game (meteor shower makes Church drop a fly ball, Bill Buckner comes out of the stands to play first, hara kiri). It never occurred to me that they'd win. Where should we put the statue?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fat Guys Dropping Balls

I gotta say, my first Nats game was not satisfying television. It could have been. The main thing I took away from it was fat guys dropping balls. In many other contexts -- the circus, a sumo tiebreaker decided by juggling, the Caribbean World Series -- this would be high entertainment. But as jaded as I've forced myself to become about my favorite team, they're still my favorite team, and that kind of thing can't help but hurt.

Dmitri Young does no team credit. I've found that any predeliction has something that's very difficult to justify to outsiders. For example, I enjoy a little mixed martial arts from time to time. I'm not huge fan; I'm not going to pay for it, but I'll watch some human cockfighting when it's on. The problem is that most UFC bouts have a point -- and this point can stretch for several excruciating minutes -- where the one muscular man wearing nothing but some little combat panties is lying right on top of the other muscular man wearing nothing but some little combat panties, and neither of them is doing much but breathing heavily. Try explaining that to a wife or girlfriend or parent or spiritual advisor.

As a Nats fan, that point came last night during Dmitri Young's first at-bat. He's a fine figure of a man with his zeppelinish ass, his jersey protruding over his belt like he's trying to hide a tortoise flat against his belly, and his not insignificant yellow sheet. Seeing him wheezing his way up to the plate, my wife turned to me and said two words: "Professional. Athlete." I knew she was just trying to get me to hit the recall button on the remote and get us back to MASN1 so she could indulge in elaborate house-playing fantasies about Brian Roberts, but she had a point nonetheless.

And then he dropped a ball. My attention wandered, but as far as I'm concerned the game was decided by a big fat guy (Young) and a little fat guy (Ronnie Belliard) having baseballs clank uselessly against the instruments they carry specifically to hold them, and that's not an honorable way to lose. Plus no one could hit. Because we suck.

Sorry to be a downer, but I'm just catching up to where the rest of you have been for a week or so, and I'm finding that it's true what everyone says: we suck. But to cheer you up, my absolute favorite Korean baseball cartoonist, Mr. Choi Hoon, has finally gotten to the Nationals, and the results --as usual -- make me realize that I've wasted my life by not learning Korean. Here's Bodes sightseeing:


And here's Da Meat Hook dispensing wisdom. Or something.


Thank you and goodnight.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tonight's the night

I'm about to watch my first Nationals of the year, and I'm excited! It's on MASN2, a concept that's got Needham's Underoos in a twist, but I'm OK with it. 68? I can remember that.

In other humiliating undergarments worn uncomfortably news, I actually met someone who's upset about CSPAN2 getting preempted. I was aware that these people existed, but, like Devil Rays fans or Scientologists or Luxembourgians, I didn't have any personal experience with them. I'm kind of shaken, actually. This is a guy I've known for some time, and just now I find out that he's A) such a tremendous dork that he'd rather watch Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) drone on about stem cells than some ~BASEBALL! and 2) so very perturbed by this that he's willing to admit it in public. I half-expect my wife to admit that she's been from Luxembourg this whole time.

Monday, April 09, 2007

They've Got Piazzas Named After Everything But Mike Piazza

So I get back to this glorious nation of ours, a place where you can get great big glasses of water with fist-sized ice cubes in them for free, and Baseball Tonight is talking about how the Nats have had a lead in one (1) of the 63 innings they've played, and I'm all like, "Wow, that many?" So it doesn't seem like I should be upset that I missed all of those 63 innings, except the ones that included ¡Livan! wreaking terrible vengeance, which I probably would have enjoyed. But I'm on board now, I've made it my pastime, and I guarantee that I won't get frustrated and quit blogging for at least a couple of weeks.

My jaunt to Italy wasn't all not thinking about the Nats and complaining about the lack of ice. I learned a lot, and in the interest of international understanding I present the following:

A Partial List of Italian Words That Sound Like Swears But Aren't
  • Fagioli
  • Ponte
  • Focaccia
  • Fagottino
  • Sporco
  • Funicolare
  • Vongole
  • Faccio
  • Tu sei il figlio di una puttana