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Thoughts At The Quarter-Pole

Can you believe the season is more or less one-quarter completed? Well, it is. Seems the thing just started yesterday. What's the defining moment so far? From early season results in the first two seasons, we had the comeback against Dan Kolb in 2005 and Soriano's three-homer game last season, also against the Braves. As for this season, I'd say it's Shawn Hill's first start of the year against the Marlins. He suffered from terrible defensive support in the first inning but never gave in; I suppose at this point I should say this performance was emblematic of the team's can-do spirit or something or other. So I suppose I will. But basically I just thought it was a wonderful turn-around, and after the beating John Patterson took the day before on Opening Day, Hill demonstrated this team wouldn't get its brains bashed in as a routine matter.

As a regular matter, perhaps so; the first 34 games provided plenty of evidence for that. But five out of the last six is pretty sweet, and even before this hot streak the pitching had rounded into decent shape.

More thoughts, some Nats-related and some not:

  • The Nats finished their second 20-game stretch last night. In the first such stretch, they went 6-14, and a week ago they needed a split of their next six games to do as well (or, rather, poorly) at the second marker. Instead of three of six, they won five of six. They went 8-12 in the second 20-game stretch. This is a preferable to 6-14, obviously, and if you track back to 10 games ago, when the Nats were 9-21, then need only split their next 10 games to have a .500 mark in a 20-game stretch. But that's getting ahead of ourselves for the moment, which is probably a bad thing to do with this team.
  • Last week, I noted the offense was more of a factor driving the team down than the presumably suspect pitching. The bats have since rebounded . . . pretty much. During the six-game stretch encompassing the Florida sweep and the first three games of the Atlanta series, the Nats have batted .240/.285/.355. The middle number, the team's on-base percentage, has actually decreased slightly in the last six games as compared to the first 14 games of the 20-game stretch. But the batting average went up about 25 points, and the slugging percentage increased another 50 points. Essentially, the Nats became more efficient at driving home the runners they did have. That's why you heard Carpenter and Sutton note how few men left of base the Nats had in the first two games of the series; they only scored two runs in both games, but at least they made the most of their few scoring opportunities. And, sure enough, the Nats both got runners on and wiped the bases clean last night in the fifth inning.
  • Wrapping up our look at the 20-game batting performance, the Nats on the whole hit .216/.282/.316 in that stretch. Terrible production, obviously. By comparison, they hit .240/.322/.345 in the first 20-game stretch. The pitching and defense solidified during the latter stretch, of course.
  • Ryan Zimmerman crushed a homer to right-center last night. A commenter at BPG wondered if that was his first opposite-field homer at RFK. I looked up Zimmerman's hit chart at MLB.com, and indeed it was. Of course, this is rather stating the obvious. Opposite-field homers to RFK's left- or right-center don't occur every day.
  • It's amazing how quickly and irrevocably pitchers can lose it. Last night, Kyle Davies cruised through the first four innings; according to Bob Carpenter's scorebook, Davies had thrown 42 pitches in those four frames, only nine for balls. He lost his command in the fifth, a problem created or enhanced by the unwillingness of Washington batters to offer at pitches well low of the strike zone. Davies went from one out and no one on; to a single by Ryan Langerhans; to a walk to pinch-hitter Jesus Flores (after starting off the confrontation 3-0), which suddenly put the tying run on base and set the Atlanta bullpen to scurrying mode; to a walk to Zimmerman, thus loading the bases; to a full-count, bases-clearing double by Ryan Church; and finally, to the showers. Don Sutton criticized Davies for serving a biteless breaking ball to Church on what would be his last pitch when Church failed to catch up to a 93 mile per hour fastball on the previous offering.
  • Last night on Baseball Tonight, the panelists were bemoaning the approach hitters take these days, just sort of conceding strikeouts. I touched on the subject generally the other day (not really bemoaning it all that much), but Tim Kurkjian relayed a fascinating stat: seventy-five or so guys strike out 100 times a year these days, whereas between 1902-59 you couldn't find seventy-five guys total who struck out 100 times. Kurkjian blamed Rob Deer, among others, for the casual whiff acceptance, which probably means Kurkjian does not produce offerings to the altar of the Three True Outcomes. Anyway, while pointing out flaws in John Kruk's analysis takes less effort than sprinkling food in a fishbowl, I thought I'd highlight his work last night. Citing three examples each of guys who "make adjustments" (and thus are not susceptible to strikeouts in bulk) and three guys who don't, Kruk cited Alfonso Soriano . . . as a guy who does. Kruk's video analysis, presented in telltale BBTN cherry-picked, contextless fashion, provided the evidence. This is all fine, and I'm not going to find fault with any aspect of Soriano's performance last season. But I thought I'd point out Soriano finished fifth in the National League in whiffs last season. Seems sort of relevant when discussing guys who make the necessary adjustments to avoid striking out.
  • MLB announced the other day that it will start the World Series on a Wednesday rather than a Saturday, which on first blush sounds like a banal matter of administrative procedure. But the move creates a ridiculously elongated LDS and LCS phase of the playoffs and relegates a World Series Game Seven (if it makes it that far, of course) to November 1. Count me against this development. The whole point of October these days, as I see it, is to get to the LCS series and World Series as quickly as possible. The opening round does not generate much national interest, and I would expect it would create less so now that there will be a couple extra off-days allotted. Furthermore, part of the fun of October is watching managers work around constricted pitching rotations and bullpens; the new schedule alleviates these burdens to an extent. Plus, the games will still be on FOX. I object!
The Nats finish up with Braves this afternoon, and then it's one of those contrived "Battle of the Beltways" series with Baltimore. I suppose I'll touch on this more tomorrow, but after being an O's fan for much of my life, I've come to feel . . . well, nothing when it comes to them. I don't despise them for their owner and the silly MASN thing, but I don't invest a significant rooting interest in them any longer. In fact, I don't even think I root. I just watch -- sometimes. It's a strange feeling.

I've tried to get back into the O's, but it just hasn't happened. They've failed to drum up my interest, and the best I can say is that I feel pity for their fans. Granted, this is a weird thing to say when the Nats are a bad team (recent hot streak notwithstanding) and aren't really in line to get better soon. But the Nats have a direction. As cliched as the slogan "The Plan" has become, it is certainly a plan. And the Orioles? Not much of one, if indeed one exists. Every year, it's something different, something middling. To be honest, the team I actually root for in that division is Tampa Bay. I like those baby Rays.