MissChatter: Houston, We Have An Unusual Problem

MissChatter: Houston, We Have An Unusual Problem
June 4, 2010, 1:16 pm
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Friday, June 4, 2010 9:15am

By Miss Chatter

Have you noticed an odd trend so far this season with the Nationals? When previewing game match-ups and determining which games are "sure wins" and which will be likely losses, the outcome inevitably turns out the opposite of expectations. Nats win the games, often handily, that are supposed to be challenging and seem to lose the "sure win" games. The just-completed road series against the Houston Astros packaged this phenomenon perfectly into a single heart-wrenching series.

Holding the worst record in the National League, Houston has had a lowest of a low season of misery so far. They were 17-33 coming into the series against the Nationals, while the Nats were one game under .500 at 25-26, outperforming their pace of recent seasons. Houston's ace, Roy Oswalt has very publicly demanded a trade from his career-long team to a sure contender. Other than possibly the game against Oswalt, the Nats looked to take at least three from the four game series, possibly even all four to bring their record back above .500. Yet rather than play by the script of "shoulds", the series was more like four days at an improv, and not the comedy kind.

Game 1 - Rookie Luis Atilano vs. All-Star Roy Oswalt: With Oswalt's 2.35 ERA matched up against Atilano, the game appeared to be one the Nationals would have to work to win. Riggleman tried something new, inserting Cristian Guzman in the leadoff spot followed by a slumping Nyjer Morgan. Instead of laboring for a win, aided by umpire Bill Hohn, the Nats pummeled the Astros in a 14-4 win. Hohn ejected Oswalt in the top of the third for no apparent reason and the Nats' bats went to town on the bullpen. Too bad they didn't save some of that offense for subsequent games in the series. Nats only used two pitchers, Atilano and Tyler Walker, to the Astros six. Each team committed one error. The win put the Nationals back at an even .500 record.

Game 2 - Craig Stammen vs. Brett Myers: Stammen entered the game with a 5.60 ERA vs. Myers' 3.22 ERA. Despite that, the matchup looked good for a win. I mean, it's the Astros, right? They're terrible this year and the Nats are good! Cristian Guzman and Nyjer Morgan again topped the 1-2 spots on the lineup. Again, umpire Hohn played a role in the loss, this time from the third base spot in the up crew, and not in favor of the Nats. With the Nats up 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th with two outs, Berkman checked his swing on strike three, but clearly crossed the plate in the replays. Hohn called no swing on the appeal and Berkman went on to win the game for the Astros with a two-run hit. Dagger! The error tally was Washington 1, Houston 2 and the loss dropped the Nats to one game under .500. No worries, they'd been there before, and with two games to go against the Astros, no sweat. Right? Wrong.

Game 3 - John Lannan vs. Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez was coming off a three game losing streak. Nyjer Morgan returned to the leadoff role. How often do umpires call a runner safe at second base on a double play move where the shortstop doesn't touch the bag? From my observations, they often don't touch the bag, but the runner is out. Not the case in this game and Desmond ended up racking a total of three errors in the 5-1 ugly loss. That is all I care to say about that one.

Game 4 - J.D. Martin vs. Brian Moehler: The final game in the series was probably the most heartbreaking of all. Morgan dropped back to the 2 slot in the lineup. The Nats lost 6-4 after rallying to pull ahead by the middle of the 9th inning. Cristian Guzman, playing in the unnatural position of right field after a switch from shortstop, failed to catch a sinking liner for the final out in the bottom of the 9th, sealing the win. Then Carlos Lee hit the game winning home run for the Astros against Matt Capps. Guzman committed all three Nats fielding errors at two positions.

Who saw that coming? Instead of cushioning their record above the even steven (Stephen?) point, the Nats defied expectations, losing 3 of 4 in the most winnable series, with the lone win coming during the one expected loss. Two of those losses came in the bottom of the 9th, earning Capps two blown saves and straight-line Ls. Know how when someone gives you rare praise and then you turn around and blow something? No? Does that only happen to me? Maybe we can blame a curse of the praising t-shirt. The previously unstoppable combo of Clippard and Capps has led to a t-shirt Tuesday promotion "Clipp & Save".

Now the team returns home to face the Reds tonight three games under .500 and in last place in the NL East. The good news is that the following home series will feature phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg against the Pirates and the Nats have a far better record at home (14-10) than on the road (12-19). I couldn't be more ecstatic for their return to Nationals Park. It feels like forever since I've been to a game and I look forward to getting back in the groove.