July 1, 2009
Just when you think the Nationals are showing signs of life, they revert to their old habit of wasting solid outings by starting pitchers and throwing away run-scoring opportunities. They take an early lead, then their batters fall silent and Manny Acta decides to entrust the game's outcome to the bullpen, which gives up late-inning runs just about every time. On Tuesday night, pitcher Craig Stammen did a fine job, and even batted in two runs with a single. Adam Dunn's 20th home run added to the feeling that the Nats were going to overcome their jinx, but then the usual sequence of events unfolded, and they lost 7-5 in a rain-shortened game. Tonight (Wednesday) it was the same old, same old. It's not the way you want to start off a new month.
Somehow the Nats can't figure out how to beat the Florida Marlins, who have won all nine games against the "D.C. 9" this year. It's just like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in every matchup between the two teams. The Nationals have now lost 23 of their past 26 games to the Marlins, who are climbing toward the top of the NL East standings. Unlike most years, however, that's not saying much. They are now ahead of the Mets and only a half game behind the Phillies. (When was the last time the Mets were below .500 this late in the season?)
And not a moment too soon! The Nationals have traded their erstwhile closing pitcher Joel Hanrahan and outfielder Lastings Milledge to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Sean Burnett and outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who has impressed a lot of people with his hustle and performance. As reported at MLB.com, "In seven games, Milledge, who was acquired from the Mets in December 2007 for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church, was 4-for-24 with an RBI for the Nationals."
I was dubious of that trade at the time (see December 2007), and the fact that Church and Schneider have proved their worth to the Mets leaves little doubt that this was probably the worst trade that Jim Bowden ever made. That MLB.com article notes that Cristian Guzman is also "on the trading block," because of his mediocre fielding performance this year. He's a reliable hitter, but just doesn't have enough range to snag hard ground balls. After his wonderful comeback season last year, it's a big shame.
Finally, the Nationals sent their burly and enthusiastic but uneven outfielder-slugger Elijah Dukes down to the Triple-A Syracuse farm team for some "back-to-basic" instruction. I hope he can pull it together.