The Nationals picked up a series-opening win against Milwaukee last night, beating one of the very best pitchers in the National League and evening their record at 5-5. That, friends, is the latest they've been at .500 since the last game of 2005. Is that a pathetically low bar to celebrate? Of course. But baby steps, people, baby steps.
They won because John Lannan didn't let the soft bottom of the Brewers lineup hurt him, holding Carlos Gomez, Greg Zaun, Alcides Escobar, and Yovani Gallardo to a combined 0-for-12.
Plus, the bullpen went two full innings without a walk. Sean Burnett hit the strike zone with 5 of 7 pitches, a much-needed change. The Nationals can't afford for him to be this year's Saul Rivera, and that's how he's looked so far.
And, of course, another come-from-behind win. Put another small feather on the scale in favor of Rizzo's "seasoned veteran" approach.
Other random thoughts and nit-picks "after the jump."
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Even with Zimmerman out, Willie Harris shouldn't be used as a defensive replacement at third base.
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Again, Stephen Strasburg is ready. One-and-a-half starts in AA isn't much, but he's not learning anything mowing down AA meat. I'd like to see him called up for his next start and Craig Stammen sent down. Depending on how things get reshuffled in the rotation, that would mean Strasburg debuts at home against the Rockies probably Wednesday or Thursday. Either way, it's time.
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Riggleman! You're killing me with the sacrifice bunts!
Situation: Bottom of the eighth inning, Nationals trail 3-2, runners on first a second, no outs. Ian Desmond at the plate with Adam Kennedy, Wil Nieves, and pinch-hitting Ryan Zimmerman due up.
What does Riggleman do? He calls for the sac bunt, giving away a precious out and taking the bat away from Desmond, the hitter with by far the chance of getting the game-winning extra-base hit they needed.
Strictly playing the numbers, the play was pretty close to a wash--the successful sacrifice very marginally increased the Nationals' odds of winning from 55.4% to 55.9%. And in hindsight, Kennedy got a double and drove in both runs.
But consider that if Kennedy (.281 OBP) and Nieves (.250 OBP) make outs, then the threat ends with Zimmerman in the on-deck circle. Or imagine if the Brewers had come back for two in the ninth, and the Nationals' missed chance at a bigger inning had cost them the game. You just can't afford to give away outs from position players like that.
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New rule: if Stan Kasten's going to keep marketing aggressively to Phillies fans, he should have to sit next to this guy.
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Adam Dunn got himself tossed in what must be lesson #1,203,167 on why it never pays to fight with umps over balls and strikes. The umps always get the last word, and if they want to eject your best hitter to remind you who's boss, they will.
This is why Joe Girardi told his team's d-bag owner Jeffrey Loria* to shut his trap when Loria was heckling umps from a box seat. Now THAT was courageous, and it cost him is job. But I bet Girardi's young pitchers got a few more calls after that.
This isn't the NBA, where "working the refs" is considered an acceptable part of the game. Fans might like the NBA better, and if you do, good news for you, the playoffs are starting and you can watch the NBA.
MLB umps have a different standard. They don't take no lip, and they feel license to enforce baseball etiquette by going against the loud-mouths on close calls. Just ask Milton Bradley. Arguing balls and strikes like Dunn did last night doesn't show toughness or intensity. It shows stupidity and lack of poise, and sooner or later it'll cost the team wins.
*D-bag Jeffrey Loria is one of the few people in baseball who gets a permanent exception from my general "no name-calling" rule of thumb.