If the Nats had an off day, would they make a sound?

No game today, sports fans. That gives the think tank an extra day to acquire a pitching staff . . .

It's hardly a scoop to point out that this team is going nowhere. Each game blends in with the next, and with the previous. Occasionally, Mercury dips into retrograde, and the Nats rip off one-in-a-row, or three-out-of-six. Occasionally.

In a sense, none of this matters much. But, in another sense, there are reasons to play out the string, other than the fact that it's not tremendously sporting to skip out on the final 30 or so games of the season. Come to think of it, maybe the two are reconcilable: None of this matters much, but there are reasons to play out the string. Thirty-two games comprise a somewhat significant period of time---not a huge sample (120 or so at-bats for most regulars), but some amount of time (about one-fifth of a season).

One of the reasons to watch this team as it plays out the string did on Friday, unfortunately, one of the things he does best on a regular basis: Alex Escobar got hurt---and badly at that. As Nats Triple Play contends, we're past the schadenfreude mode with Escobar. If Escobar had hit .225 and dislocated his shoulder in the process, then it would have been timely (though, slipping out of the blogger mindset, still kind of inappropriate) to mock Jim Bowden for acquiring a human injury. But Escobar was hitting .356, playing pretty darned well in every phase of the game, and the prospect of watching this one-time mega-prospect get a month of steady playing time seemed quite intriguing. Now, Ryan Church will get the steady playing time---until something else corrupts Church?

As OMG notes, Church is going to, as Snake from the Simpsons would say, take-this-car-to-Mex-i-co and do a little offseason work on identifying "soft breaking balls." Included in this training will be "visualization" techniques. Decide and act, Ryan, decide and act. Who really knows how helpful this will be, but Church certainly seems defenseless against off-speed stuff, especially when it moves even an inch, and he really seems to get bogged down when the pitcher can safely mix it into the arsenal.

Well, who doesn't, right? Almost everyone struggles with two strikes, especially down in the count. But Church really struggles. On a whim, I looked up this arcane stuff yesterday during a BPG thread, and since I took the time to do so, I thought I'd point to the stats. But be forewarned---they ain't exactly purty:

Category 0-2 Count Any Time After 0-2 Count
Church, 2006 .053/.053/.053 (19 AB, 15 K) .067/.065/.167 (30 AB, 23 K)
Church, Career .085/.122/.085 (47 AB, 31 K) .103/.134/.159 (107 AB, 62 K)

Yes, the standard-issue sample size proviso applies. And, yes, everybody struggles. And, yes, when you're down two strikes, a natural consequence is that you can strike out to terminate the at-bat. But by way of comparison---though not a particularly good one---the average NL hitter with two strikes (any count with two strikes, no matter how the count got to two strikes) is hitting .190/.260/.294, with a strikeout about four times for every ten at-bats.

So, yeah, I think Church could use a little help in some aspects of the hitting game. Yet, keep in mind that, during this lost season, he's still hitting .246/.353/.493. Among players with at least 100 at-bats, that slugging percentage is fourth on the team. And Daryle Ward barely qualified. And Alex Escobar almost did.

Poor Alex Escobar.

* * * *

On another note, Damian Jackson was released a few days ago, and that is occasion for schadenfreude, baby! Nats320 is at the vanguard there. Keep in mind that the reaction isn't motivated by the fact that Jackson sucks, though he does; it's because he was such a colossal tool while he was sucking. Plus, Jackson's had a good ride in the majors. Like I said before, his behavior would have been deplored had he been a raw rookie instead of a "Proven Veteran"(tm).

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