I suppose it is a bit convenient to say this is how we thought it would be -- a nice and neutral headline like "Washington 4, Cincinnati 3" recapping a pleasant road series win to improve the team's record to something resembling respectability. Maybe we expected that sort of thing at the outset of the season, back when my recollection says most of us predicted benignly and unremarkably poor records such as 64-98 or 66-96 or 69-93, rather than some of the "historically bad" Buster Olney-ish predictions. But, even if we say that we saw beyond a little thing called Nine and Twenty-Five, did we really expect the climb to pseudo-respectability to be heralded by something like this? "Bacsik, Nationals Edge Reds," I mean, with the corresponding subhead "Lefty earns first win since 2004 with 7 2/3 solid innings."
Yes, Bacsik went 11-0 last season in the Pacific Coast League. We know that. We also know:
- he is bald
- he is apparently a huge fan of Dallas Mavericks; and
- other than that, we have know idea who the hell he is.
Yet, here Bacsik is, 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA in two starts. Pretty cool.
Bacsik, like another May rotational addition, Jason Simontacchi, is succeeding so far because he's been able to avoid beating himself. He's walked two batters in 13.2 innings and has trusted a Washington defense that, errors aside, has been pretty solid. The Nats are fifth in the NL in defensive efficiency, a stat I've referenced a few times this season. It means the Nats' percentage of balls in play converted to outs is the fifth-highest in the NL. (The Reds, by contrast, have the worst defensive efficiency rating in the league, an attribute amply exploited by the Nats especially with a red hot Dmitri Young and the corresponding "Keep Robert Fick the hell away from the starting lineup" plan.)
Good control and efficient defense comprise a fine combination, one enhanced by the ability to keep the ball in the park. So far, Bacsik and Simontacchi, to name two, have combined for three homers allowed in 36 innings (counting tonight's eighth inning homer that allowed the Reds back into the game). Surely, this is a rate aided in large part by RFK Stadium, but it's worth noting both Simontacchi and Bacsik thrived in the considerably more cozy Great American Ballpark (again, except for the late homer off Bacsik).
The key phrase, I suppose, is "so far," since a 36 inning-sample from two pitchers is the very essence of small. And, truth be told, I'm not tremendously sanguine about Bacsik going forward. I can't really speak for his first outing, but based on what I observed of him tonight, he was surrendering quite a few rockets. These shots were converted to outs -- I again refer you to the team's defensive efficiency -- but they will eventually start finding safety in greater numbers to the point where, given his likely inability to strike out enough batters, there will be issues concerning Bacsik's sustainability.
Yet, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Is there really even a "going forward" for Bacsik? Bergmann should be back fairly soon, Hill should be too, and even our delicate flower, John Patterson, will be hitting the rehab circuit before we know it. Mike O'Connor supposedly will be back in the swing sometime in June, and Brandon Claussen has taken an aggressive posture to rehab. As fill-ins go, Simontacchi very well might stick around, but Bacsik is strictly a fill-in.
* * * *
There seems to be a growing sentiment as the season progresses -- in this first season of widespread MASN distribution -- that Bob Carpenter has not been the greatest of play-by-play men. I don't wish to pile-on, but I do think it is relevant to point out an instance in tonight's game where Carpenter (and, to be fair, Don Sutton as well) neglected to comment on something important to the disposition of tonight's game.
David Ross led off the bottom of the eighth with a plasma shot off of Ryan Zimmerman that finally expended the last of its energy when it made its way into Ryan Church's glove in left. Slappin' swifty Norris Hopper followed with a pinch-hit drag bunt single, and Billy Traber started tossing in the Nats' bullpen. The Reds had turned over the lineup, and leadoff man Ryan Freel (the greatest of the Ryan Freel-type players, of course) smacked another hot shot. Fortunately, second baseman Felipe Lopez snared the line drive. Lopez attempted to double-off Ross at second, but his flip to Cristian Guzman was errant. Zimmerman and Bacsik both reacted quickly, however, with Zimmerman tracking down the ball and Bacsik sprinting to third base once he saw Ross break off of second. The Zimmerman/Bacsik combo was faster, and the Nats converted a bizarre little 4-5-1 double-play.
Carpenter and Sutton were appropriately effusive in their praise of Zimmerman and Bacsik, and they noted the double-play loomed large once the next batter, Alex Gonzalez, slammed a two-run homer to cut the lead to one. But they failed to address one thing: why Ross tried to take third base in the first place. Why did Ross run? It was a stupid play. Obviously, he saw the ball pass by the bag and must have figured there was a good chance Zimmerman wouldn't make it in time, but why even risk it? As a catcher, Ross isn't a fast runner, his run was in isolation nearly meaningless, and the heart of the order was lying in wait. And yet, ninety seconds later, the MASN announcers treated his out as incidental, part of a wild and unlucky double-play that deprived the Reds of a tie game.
Well, the double-play was wild and unlucky, but Ross's out was not incidental. It was the product of a choice. It may be harsh to say it was a poor choice, given the pace of the play; yet, it was an unnecessary choice, and that's what made it poor. You'd think that choice would be worth a mention.
Speaking of poor choices, what was with Jeff Conine bunting with one out and no outs in the bottom of the ninth? Was that on Conine's initiative, or did Jerry Narron call it? Either way it was odd -- Sutton wryly noted Conine had "seven sacrifice bunts in his illustrious career" -- and will likely lead to an uneasy appearance in the morning paper for Narron tomorrow.
But hey, the Nats will certainly take it. GUZMANIA prospers, too!