July 27, 2006
The two home runs hit by Barry Bonds during the Giants' last visit to RFK Stadium last September put an end to the Nats' fleeting hopes for a post-season berth, but this year is a different story: Barry was hitless and runless in six at bats, reaching base twice on walks. Some of the Giants hit well in this series, notably Ray Durham, but the Nationals showed consistent, solid batting and high quality pitching across the board, thereby sweeping the Giants. That makes six consecutive wins, which is the most for the Nats since late June - early July last year.
UPDATE: Attendance for the six-game home series averaged nearly 33,000, a happy "Grand Reopening" for RFK Stadium indeed. It was probably boosted, though, by large numbers of Cubs fans and folks hoping to see one of Barry Bonds' home runs. The Nats now head to the West Coast for the first time this year, facing the Dodgers, the Giants (again), and the Padres. Then comes a grueling series of series against their NL East rivals, lasting until the end of August.
Meanwhile, rumors are still flying about where Alfonso Soriano will end up playing next month; the White Sox are a leading candidate. I'm increasingly convinced that his stated desire to stay in D.C. is sincere. With a wealthy new owner, a new stadium under construction, and a large local Hispanic fan base, it is an ideal place for him (or any rising star) to play. Soriano's agent Diego Bentz says his client "doesn't want to negotiate until after the season," which is why Washington will probably trade him; see MLB.com. Veteran Jose Vidro says losing Soriano would be a major blow to the Nationals. Bruce Orser asks:
Please tell me why any team would trade someone doing as well as Soriano?
It's like he is already gone.
Don't the fans care about him?
Well, the conventional wisdom is that the Lerners are devoted almost exclusively to rebuilding the "infrastructure" of the franchise, prioritizing the farm club system and hiring superior quality coaches. It makes sense, though it implies virtual indifference to the win-loss record of the team in D.C., which would risk alienating the new Washington area fan base. It is possible that the ballyhooed "fire sale" attitude (such as post-1997 Florida Marlins) is part of a sophisticated negotiating ploy aimed at luring as many teams into trade talks as possible, whipping up a bidding frenzy for Soriano, Hernandez, et al., and then either making big deals or standing pat. It is entirely possible that the main purpose of the "megatrade" with Cincinnati two weeks ago was to draw wider attention to Washington's eagerness to trade, or at least to create the impression that that was the case. Who knows what Stan Kasten and Jim Bowden have up their sleeves?
It is good to see Ryan Church back in the lineup, after getting demoted to the New Orleans Zephyrs in May. [He got a home run on Sunday, into the upper deck, helping to beat the Cubs. Former Red Austin Kearns started got off to slow start with Nats, but has begun to get some clutch hits.] On the down side for the Nationals, Jose Guillen has to undergo Tommy John surgery for a torn elbow ligament, and will therefore miss the rest of this season and possibly much of the next season as well. Given that he has complained about a sore elbow for weaks, as his batting performance lagged, it is strange that the diagnosis took so long. See MLB.com. Meanwhile, the promising but fragile pitcher John Patterson had successful surgery on his forearm, repairing some minor nerve damage, but he may miss the rest of the season as he undergoes rehabilitation. See MLB.com. The loss of those two key players pretty much eliminates whatever slim hopes the team had for a late season comeback.
The IRS and National Park Service have issued the necessary clearances, so there are no more bureaucratic hurdles in the way of replacing The House That Ruth Built. Bulldozers are standing by. The New York Times reports: "Construction will involve paving over large portions of Macombs Dam Park and Mullaly Park and cutting down about 400 mature oak trees." What will become of all the birds and squirrels currently residing there? Did anyone think of that? Aside from the squandered historical treasure, it is outrageous to me that the new stadium will have 4,000 fewer seats than the current home of the Yankees, which is often sold out. For a city as big as New York, the capacity ought to be 60,000 at a minimum. Hat tip to Mike Zurawski, who also let me know that Tropicana Field opened the new tank full of "cownosed (!?) rays" on Friday. Thrill-seeking fans can reach in and touch the "alien" creatures that now dwell in right-center field. See MLB.com. What I want to know is, who would want to be on a team named after a creature that looks like it came from another planet?
I've pretty much caught up with my e-mail in box, and will report on some intriguing new tips I've received soon.