Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bang-Zoom Go the Nationals!!

Today in Atlanta, it was Odalis Perez versus the Braves' Jo Jo Reyes. Reyes has really improved his command this year and is on his way to becoming a solid mid-rotation starter. Atlanta's a pitcher's park, and though we had a nice offensive output last night, and you like having Flores finally back in the lineup, you don't expect a team with five starters hitting under .240 (and another named Ryan Langerhans) to blow anyone away.

Well, that's baseball. In the first, we looked like ourselves. After watching Willie Harris draw a 5-pitch walk and with the count at 1-1, GDP-machine Paul Lo Duca reached for a pitcher's pitch--a change-up on the outside corner--and hit into a GDP. That's just such stubborn, stupid baseball. For every scrappy, smart thing he does (stealing second on Friday night off Hudson), it seems like he does two or three dumb things like this. Guzman popped out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the first, Perez was not sharp. He gave up two base hits and a double. He got out of it with only one run scored only because Langerhans saved a run by getting to the Francoeur double fast enough to stop Teixeira at third. That run scores with Lo Duca in left.

Then, in the second, the Washington Nationals were possessed by the '27 Yankees. Kearns hit an outer half change to left for a base hit. Swinging a that will usually produce a groundout, but the blind squirrel found the nut. Belliard then took the walk like the pro that he is. Flores, who is so much better than Johnny Estrada, smacked base hit off a change-up left up in the zone. Felipe Lopez didn't bail out a struggling pitcher for once, taking four straight balls to walk in the tying run. Braves SS Brent Lillibridge made a heady play to save a run on a pop up by Langerhans, turning to catch the ball while facing home so he could get the throw in quickly. But after Perez made the second out, Willie Harris came through with 2 strikes and 2 outs by hitting a curveball in on his hands into right field. It wasn't all that bad of a pitch, but Harris waited on it and hit it hard. Then, Jeff Francouer, who really is anything but this, could have had a play at the plate to get Lopez but threw it into the netting behind home. Lo Duca ended the inning by upper-cutting a curve ball to left field, looking like he was trying to hit a home run.

In the third, Perez again played with fire. It wasn't his fault when Guzman booted an easy grounder that should have been the first out. But then after getting two automatic outs from Corky Miller and Jo Jo Reyes (those two have a .091 BA, if you add them together
), Perez issued a walk to the also not very good Gregor Blanco, a big mistake. He put himself in a situation where he had to get Kelly Johnson out with Larry on deck. He acted like he thought he was squeezed on ball four to Blanco, but he wasn't. (I don't defend Angel Hernandez, but Perez certainly doesn't help himself or his team by stomping around the mound when a call doesn't go his way.) He then threw a nice cutter/fastball/change-up/slider sequence to get two strikes, and then struck him out on cutter that was off the plate outside. I hope he said "gracias" on his way back to the dugout.

In the bottom of the third we broke it wide open, benefiting from some really bad pitching from Reyes, who just had terrible command, maybe a post-AS Game hangover. Belliard smacked a cookie of a change up for a base hit. Flores's RBI base hit was a fastball in that could have been a real jam job, but he nicely pulled his hands back to get the fat of the bat on the ball. Lopez hit a hanging curve ball for a sharp base hit--would have been nice to see him drive it, but I'll take it. Langerhans got
another hanging off-speed pitch, and Reyes was finally done. Not to complain about a 14-run output, but Reyes easily could have given up three home runs in the third against a better lineup.

Then for the second time in two games we got to knock around Bowden draftee Buddy Carlyle. His 1.52 ERA is exhibit A for why ERA isn't very helpful for evaluating pitching. He also has an 82.4 LOB% and a 46% fly-ball rate, and one of those stats is not like the others. Carlyle proceeded to walk Harris with the bases loaded. He was probably legitimately squeezed on ball three, and, like Perez, decided it was smart to stomp around the mound like a two-year-old. Then he was shocked! shocked! that he didn't get the corner on the next pitch, which was certainly not a strike, and when he decided to complain some more Cox had to come out to defend him and was tossed. Again, I can't understand why people think it's a good idea to pick fights with umps. Thank goodness we have Manny. Then, with the bases loaded and the Braves unraveling, the awful, selfish, stupid Lo Duca couldn't bring himself to take more than one called strike and grounded out to end the third rally in three innings. Did I mention he's a cradle-robbing drug-pusher?

In the fourth, Carlyle crapped the bed some more with an HBP followed by a batting practice fastball that Kearns absolutely slaughtered to finally hit his 100th career homer. Flores, who is so so so much better than Estrada, again stayed back on a tough breaking ball for a base hit. Lopez then did a good job going the other way with a pitch away. Would be nice to have him heat up before the deadline. Carlyle again had a temper tantrum when the ump didn't give him a pitch that was well inside and then hung a slider that Langerhans whacked to center. The Braves went from unravelling to completely self-destructing when Perez hit a tapper that should have been a double play, and catcher Corky Miller (he of the .092 BA) turned it into 2 runs by throwing the ball into right field. Then Wee Willie Harris (who I'm gussing likes pitches inside) jacked a slider down and in for a home run. That's not an easy pitch to hit, but he's red hot and is (no joke) starting to creep up on Belliard for the team lead in HRs. The inning ended when Lo Duca again bailed out an unraveling pitcher by swinging at the first pitch. Did I mention he's also short and ugly?

By this point it was 12-2. Perez didn't quite pitch badly enough to get pulled before qualifying for the win, and the maligned Nationals bullpen put up mostly zeros the rest of the way while the Nationals chipped in 3 more runs.

It's been fun to see the Nationals put some runs on the board, but I gotta say I think the story of this game was the Braves falling apart. Four errors, an ejected manager, seven walks, an HBP, lots of arguing balls and strikes... the Braves look like they're ready for another week off. It's good to see such a thoroughly unlikable team get their comeuppance. And heading to San Francisco, we better be careful, lest we playing ourselves out of the Stephen Strasburg Sweepstakes!

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