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7 GAME SKID ALL BUT FORGOTTEN

[September 6th] -- After the Nationals had limped home following that disastrous last game in Los Angeles, I wrote that the losing streak itself was less important than how the team reacted to the it. All of us, I'm sure, have been amazed all summer as the Nats played above .500 ball since the team's 9-25 start, and, deep in our hearts, knew it couldn't last. Was the seven game losing streak the beginning of the end of the Nationals semi-Cinderella like season?

Nope.

The Nationals' players answered my query with the current five-game winning streak and are again on pace to surpass last season's win total of 71. If they go 11-11 the rest of the way, they'll finish the season 74-82, a very solid season for a stript-to-the-waist roster of the very young and the very bad.

Austin Kearns continues to try to make up for his sub-par first half, although all the homers and all the RBI's he might generate from now until the end of the year won't come close to making up for the many games he cost the team early on. Kearns went 3-4 and hit his 13th homer. Though I'll take it, he really should be close to 20 at this point in the season.

I don't know what to think about Felipe Lopez. Two days after he refused to talk to reporters anymore, one day after making two more serious defensive miscues, Lopez was back at it again last night. With runners on base, a ball was hit to Ronnie Belliard who flipped the ball to Lopez to force the runner. The ball bounced into Lopez's glove and back out. The runner was safe. Luckily, the umpire was screened from the play and must of assumed that Lopez was transferring the ball to his throwing hand because he called the runner out. I have to believe that the talented second baseman is going to be non-tendered this fall, ending his time in Washington.

And that's okay; I don't have a problem with a Belliard - Cristian Guzman double play combination. We need players whose heads are in the game. Not that Belliard's head was in the game last night. With two out and a runner on, Chad Cordero forced a popup into foul ground behind first base. It was an easy catch. Just as the ball reached him, however, Belliard tried to non-chalant the ball into his glove and ..... he ended up pulling a Lopez. Though Hanley Ramirez reached on a walk, Cordero bore down and got Dan Uggla swinging to end the game.

I had assumed that when Tim Redding stopped, chased, and then fell on that ball, that he had a chance to throw out the runner. I mean, why else would he flail-n-bail all over the field in an attempt to get to it quickly. In fact, he had no hope to get an out at first, which makes his injury that much more unfortunate. Redding, now out with an elbow contusion, will be lost for at least a week. That said, I can't think of many injuries over the past few years when the player returned as predicted.

Jonathan Albaladejo looked p-r-e-t-t-y impressive last night, allowing no hits, runs or walks in 1.2 innings while striking out three. That line, at least based on his minor league stats, is not totally unexpected. Albaladejo (whose name really didn't fit on the back of his uniform) struckout almost nine batters per 9 innings while walking fewer than 2. He's still young at 24 and never had a bad year in the minors. You have to wonder why the Pirates never gave him a chance. And - wow - the kid has a curveball.

Wily Mo Pena continues to make me feel warm-n-fuzzy, though two games does not a relationship make. Interim hitting coach Larry Harris has been showing Pena how to go the other way, imploring him to shorten up with two strikes and just make contact.

He's listening.

For the second night in a row, Pena drove the ball the opposite way for a base hit. He is an enigma. He has all the power in the world but has no plate discipline whatsoever. Pena has an OBP of under .300 this year and hasn't walked in three weeks. The Nationals do not need a one dimensional outfielder next year. If he can't learn that singles are a good thing, if he doesn't accept that walks help, then the Nationals need to move him before next season begins. In 1982, Dave Kingman batted .204-32-99 with a .285 on-base percentage and 156 strikeouts. I can easily see Pena putting up numbers similar to Kingmans next season. You tend to find players like Kingman on bad teams all the time, but you never see them in the post-season. and there is a reason for that.

Pena (as we now know him) would be fine in left next year if the Nationals weren't in a position to improve. But they are, and they will. I cringe each time Pena comes to the plate with two outs and a runner in scoring position. He's more apt to strikeout on three pitches than he is to hit a homer.

Keep helping him, Larry. Turn him into a (somewhat) complete player.

Five in a row. Who'd a thunkdt it.


Comments:
How's your health? I hope things are going well. Long time no talk.
 
Thanks for asking. I'm home for awhile -- I can't work (which isn't a bad thing) but neither can I finish my degree (which is a bad thing considering there is only one semester left to go). I'll find out in a month the when's, why's and possible oopses regarding surgery.

Sitting at home isn't altogether bad; I get to watch ESPN 24/7 and get to read all of my history books.

Appreciate your concern.
 
Farid - Haven't welcomed you back yet. I hope the health issues go in the right direction.

I can't for the life of me figure out why Redding lunged for that baseball. The only thing I can think of is that he didn't know that the ball had hit the ground and assumed that if he could catch the deflection off his elbow before it hit the ground he'd have retired the batter. It's a stretch, I know.

And Pena went up the middle early in the count on Wednesday night. I don't believe that he's a changed man yet, but the more he goes up the middle and to right, the more chances he'll have to jerk the ball. Still, right now he's not an answer as a productive corner outfielder.

Roger
 
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