COMEBACK KIDS DO IT AGAIN
I vote for something in the middle.
Before baseball returned to Washington I was a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves. Year after year, pennant after pennant, they won both handily and easily. But I remember very few magical moments during those years, especially for a first place team. But the Nationals seem to entertain their fans in ways the Braves never did. Jose Vidro's one-out single in the 9th inning was the team's 12th walk-off win in 2006 -- almost 20% of the Nationals' wins for the year!
Mike O'Connor gave Nationals fans something we've been lacking for several months: hope. O'Connor's 2006 season has been a tale of two halves -- he was wholly unhittable during the first couple of months and the best batting practice pitcher in the majors after that. I mean, if you wanted a 75 mph fastball down-the-middle for batting practice, forget all those coaches around the league -- trade for Mike O'Connor. It wasn't like the league slowly started to figure him out, he went from unhittable to unrecognizable as a major league pitcher. He needed to step to the mound and pitch well on Wednesday, showing that perhaps -- just perhaps -- all those bad outings might have been due to an injury.
And it just might have been. On a 65 pitch leash, O'Connor threw five strong innings, allowing just three hits while walking one. He looked like the guy who took the mound earlier this year. His pitches, slow, slower and slowest, found the corners of the plate time and time again. For the Nationals to have any real hope of success next year, Mike O'Connor has to be productive in the middle of the order, garnering 12-13 wins with an ERA under 4.00. If he can do that in the three or four slot, then the team can re-sign Ramon Ortiz to bring up the rear; his mediocrity would then be acceptable. I know his ERA is ridiculously high, but he is going to end the year with twelve or so wins. ERA isn't important from the five guy; it's all about wins and innings.
Chad Cordero did something for only the 4th time this year, and the first time since the all-star break: he blew a save. One of our MSM friends wrote an article saying that Cordero causes more sweat on the brow per save opportunity than any other closer in the history of the game. I'd agree with that, but not the part where he is less "automatic" than than he was last year. Most of those blown saves were early in the year, and during the same general period. I think that's why it seems that he's less "automatic." Chad allows a lot of baserunners in the 9th, but then he also strands a great many of them. He's not Billy Wagner with a 99 mph fastball or Troy Percival with a devastating drop pitch. He's a closer in the major leagues because he has the personality to do it, not necessarily the stuff. Hey, it makes the games more interesting.
The Nationals have now won consecutive series against the Diamondbacks and Cardinals, and that's nice, really. But wins and losses don't mean much this time of the year, at least for the Nats. The hope is to see improvement in the players we're counting on for next year, but even more importantly, this is when we get a chance to see what guys with names like "Nook" can do.
Frankly though, I'd rather see what an outfielder named "Ryan" could do if the team would just leave him alone and let him play.