Jim Riggleman is reportedly returning to the Washington bench next season. Asked last night following the Nationals' loss to the NL East-clinching Philadelphia Phillies in front of a partisan crowd almost entirely composed of Philly fans, what the Washington Nationals could do to get to where the Phillies are, the Nats' Skipper said, "I can't get overly discouraged by that ballgame in particular, but, to win ballgames you have to pitch, you've got to play clean defense, you've got to hit, but I feel like we've played very good baseball lately. Our guys play hard, they play with intensity, I'm proud of the way they go at it, they work hard, they prepare hard, we ran into a buzzsaw tonight with [Roy] Halladay, but certainly we're not satisfied with 67 wins. The Phillies are winning 90+ and we're losing 90+, so you know there's a gap there that we've got to close and we've got to close that with just playing better baseball and raising the bar for what our expectations are and meet those expectations, but nobody's going to let you do it, they're not just going to give you ballgames, and they were very good tonight, they played every aspect of the game, they played great baseball tonight and it starts with Halladay."
The Phillies' ace, who's (21-10) after last night's win, threw his ninth complete game last night, a two-hit shutout in which he walked no one and struck out six Nats while inducing 12 ground ball outs and 4 flyouts none of which were particularly hard hit. It took Halladay all of 97 pitches, 65 of them strikes to work his way through 28 batters, one over the minimum. The closest thing the Nats have to that sort of "buzzsaw" as Jim Riggleman described the 33-year-old Halladay, will be on the sidelines for most, if not all of 2011. It's impossible to look at Stephen Strasburg and not imagine the possibility that he one day learns to control a game like the former Blue Jays' and current Phillies' ace, but the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick won't even resume his career for another 12 months at best at which point he'll essentially be starting his major league career anew.
DC GM Mike Rizzo has put a legit top of the rotation starter at the top of the Nats' wish list for the winter, but a staff ace isn't the easiest thing to sign, and without continued improvement to the pitching, defense and offense, as Mr. Riggleman says, the Nats are going to have a hard time competing in the NL East. The Nationals aren't the only team in the East facing this problem, the Phillies have claimed their fourth-straight NL East crown, so the entire division's playing catchup. "You just respect [the Phillies] for what they've accomplished," Riggleman said yesterday before the loss to Philadelphia, "and you realize that that's who you're trying to catch, you know, that's where you've got to try to get to." How to get there? Not leading the league in errors, not letting the power bat in the middle of the lineup walk, not relying on unproven young starters or journeymen inning-eaters...the architect of the original Plan is moving on this winter. Maybe The Plan 3.0 will provide the solution.