[September 19th] -- What's happened at RFK the past two days isn't exactly like what Appalachian State did to Michigan, but it's close. The Mets came into town on a three game losing streak and in desperate need of wins to stave off the charging Phillies. The Nationals are finishing out the year with nothing to play for, save perhaps a bit of pride by not finishing in last place, something no one will remember a year from now.
I was supposed to be a one-sided series, and thus far it has been. But not this way.
After the Mets went up on Joel Hanrahan and the Nationals 4-0 in the first, I turned to my son and joked, "We've got 'em right where we want 'em." I was kidding, but the Nationals weren't. A few hours later, the Nationals were winning and, later in the night, the Phillies beat the Cardinals to close within 1.5 games of the moribund Mets.
How weird is all of this?
The Nationals are now 68-83 and need to win just four more games to better last year's 71-91 record.
Now, that's all good, but last night's game wasn't all good news. Chad Cordero has begun to scare me. He loaded the bases his last time out against Atlanta before getting Chipper Jones to bounce into a double play. He blew his save opportunity the game before that. Last night, he came within one pitch of loading the bases after allowing a run to score to make it 9-8.
Now, let's be honest, here. Cordero has always been a Cardiac Kid. He's spent the last three years allowing baserunners before - usually - closing the door. We knew a slew of baserunners were going to reach when he pitched, but that they weren't going to score. We had confidence in Cordero.
That confidence, sadly, has now eroded. One and two run leads in the 9th make me uneasy and are no guarantee of a Nationals' victory. Cordero leads the league in blow saves this year and he isn't giving us any reason to believe that this is going to change anytime soon. Afterall, he's not really allowing more baserunners than before, he's simply allowing more of them to score.
Next year should be interesting. If the team is still a year or two away from respectability - or contending - then the team can stand another year of Cordero's uncertainty. But what if the Nationals start off strong and look promising only to be hamstrung by "the Chief's" blown saves? What will happen then? 72 win teams can afford Chad's miscues; 82 win teams cannot. Perhaps his future lies in the setup role as most of the other team's believe.
After seeing his batter average dip from .292 to .266 over the past month or so, Nook Logan is again make a push to keep his playing time in center field. He had two more hits last night and is now batting .271. Regardless of what he does the rest of the season, however, I don't see him returning as a starter. It's either going to be Ryan Church or a slugger obtained via free agency or trade. Logan, however, does look like a very solid 4th outfielder/pinch runner.
Speaking of late season comebacks, Ronnie Belliard, who dropped from .303 to .277, went 3-4 with that mammoth home run and is now back to .289. Will someone please explain to me why no one wanted the veteran infielder last winter? It must have been that "situation" and those allegations coming out of St. Louis of which he was eventually cleared. I can't imagine the Nationals playing this well since May without Belliard, especially after losing Cristian Guzman on June 24th.
I wanted to punch Bob Carpenter last night. "Maxwell swings and hits one deep to left .... how far is this one going to go? ..... (chuckling) well, it goes to the warning track and is caught. Gee, I thought that one was heading out." To be fair, I guess, most in the stands thought it was going out too. Maxwell, playing in any other park but RFK, would have three homers in September and 9 RBI's. Either that, or the kid has real "warning track power." Him and Willy Mays Hayes. Regardless, Maxwell has a beautiful swing; almost majestic. I hope he is the real deal.
Stadium Update: The workers have begun attaching letters on the top of the arched portion of the stadium's scoreboard that will eventually read "Nationals" in the team's current, stylized jersey lettering. That tells me that the team is in fact not making any radical changes to the uniform for next season. There has been much speculation that "new ballpark = new uniform" even though the team failed to meet the filing deadline with Major League Baseball to make changes earlier this season. And that saddens me a little bit. While I've always loved the team's uniform, I've never been too keen on that arched lettering that looks like it was (and it was) created on a laptop in a hotel room one night. I understand that the lettering had to be arched to make room for all those letters, but there had to be a better way.
Hopefully, the letters on the scoreboard will at least be the same size.