Nationals at Dodgers: Friday, July 25 at 10:40 ET
It's a late late late Friday night feature coming to you from glamorous L.A. It'll be 70 degrees and clear at game time--a gorgeous night for a ballgame. The Nationals are coming off a sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Gentle Giants, one of the few teams in baseball arguably worse than the Nationals. We're facing the Dodgers, who are in second place in the NL West, but still a few games below .500.
The Nationals dearly need something to change their luck. Facing Chad Billingsley tonight, they may need to wait. Here's my take on Game 1.
Chad Billingsley: If you liked what you saw yesterday when the Nationals were completely throttled by Matt Cain, you're going to love tonight's match up. Big, inning-eating 23-year-old power pitcher with huge strikeout numbers, a plus fastball and a plus curve who gets into trouble running up pitch counts but will dominate when he's on. Is this a re-run? Since most of us were stuck at work during the Nationals 1-0 offensive implosion yesterday, you get another chance tonight.
Billingsley and Cain aren't exactly the same. Cain is a pretty extreme fly-ball pitcher, and while Billingsley had higher fly-ball numbers in the past, he's really cut down this year. Billingsley throws a cutter instead of a slider as his second breaking ball. Both mix in an occasional change. Billingsley is a little shorter and stouter. But the bottom line is more or less the same. If the Nationals only see 3.6 pitches per AB against Billingley like they did against Cain, they're probably looking at another 4-hit shutout or something similar.
John Lannan: Lannan's success is based on his ability to throw strikes, maintain his command in all situations, and get hitters to pound out ground-ball outs with his off-speed stuff and well-located fastball. He doesn't make many mistakes over the plate and gives up few homers. He throws a fastball, curve, change, and slider. Lannan's never faced the Dodgers.
What To Look For
Nomar is apparently playing shortstop, and Jeff Kent is at second. Yikes. James Loney ain't much with the glove either. That's going to be some gnarly infield defense. Let's see if Guzman or Milledge can take advantage with an infield hit or two.
Billingsley's pitch count, and the Nationals' plate approach. Will they have learned anything from the Cain experience, or will they be hacking at the first pitch in the zone again?
Is it back to the bench for Andruw Jones now that Juan Pierre is back from the DL? If not, Nationals fans will get a close look at the 36-million-dollar man with the .166-.269-.249 line. To the "Lerners are cheap" crowd: be careful what you wish for...
With Lannan generating a steady diet of ground balls, how many extra outs will the right side infield of PLod and FLop give the Dodgers?
If Hanrahan ever gets a save opportunity, will his command be there? I think we may see him tonight in a non-save situation if the Nationals aren't leading at the end.
Billingsley is murder on righties. The lineups were just posted (Jones is there--with Ethier on the bench?? thanks Torre!!), and we have quite a run of right-handed hitters through the middle of the order: Zimm, Kearns, Flores, Milledge, Lo Duca. Why not give Casto a start at 1B? Or Langerhans in left and get Harris a start at 2B? (Ok that technically wouldn't add a left-handed bat, but wouldn't you rather see that?)
If the Nationals are averaging 9,000 viewers per game, how many people do you suppose will be watching the last pitch tonight, which could very well be closing in on 2 am in the District? Triple digits? Less?
(Season record: 2-1, 1 bull's eye)
Billingsley has a rough inning or two, but the Nationals can't do more than string together singles. Lannan is steady as she goes. Flynnie, Hendo, me, [edit: and NattyDelite!] and no one else sees the Nationals walk off after 1 am after a 3-1 loss.