The Nationals saw their 12 game home winning streak come to an end yesterday at RFK as a result of a 9-5 roasting at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays. Orlando Hudson of the Jays broke a 5-5 tie in the 8th with a two-run home run off of Luis Ayala. Sunny Kim gave up two more in the 9th to put the game out of reach. On the heels of another bad start the last time out against Texas, Tony Armas Jr. continues to tease; and disappoint – after an unhittable start, he didn't make it through 5 innings yesterday. With the loss, and Atlanta's 8-1 shellacking of the faltering O's, the Nats lead in the NL East stands at 3 games over the surging Braves.
>The Nats get a well deserved day off today before welcoming the Pittsburgh Pirates to RFK for a three game set before heading to Chicago for three with the Cubs over the weekend. Ryan Drese takes the hill Tuesday for the Nats against Pittsburgh's Josh Fogg.
>After another dud by Armas, the big question remains whether the Nationals have enough pitching to make it through the dog days of summer. Obviously, pitching will determine if the Nats are contenders or pretenders. The answer is in the arms. Unfortunately the Nats can't pitch Livan Hernandez every day (although he'd probably take the ball every time if you asked him). The ace of the staff had another stellar performance Saturday night. Esteban Loaiza was solid on Friday night and has been much, much better than his 3-5 record shows (he's gotten no run support); and Jon Patterson, bad back permitting, should be fine. But the ability of the "other guys" filling the fourth and fifth slots in the rotation will have as much to do with a serious run for the playoffs as any other factor. Armas is certainly not cutting it. On-again-off-again Ryan Drese is nothing but a big question mark. Who else? Sunny Kim is a crapshoot. Zach Day is almost ready to return, but he was awful before going down with a fractured arm. Is there any reason to believe he'll be any more effective now?
It seems that Jim Bowden's hands are tied. For one thing most of the big names who are rumored to be available as the trading deadline approaches are too expensive. Then there's this little problem: the Nats really don't have much to trade away after years of being bled dry by the rest of the majors while in Montreal. For what it's worth, the Nats have only one prospect who ranked in Baseball America's 2005 Top 100 Prospects: left-handed pitcher Mike Hinckley. Hinckley, by the way, improved to 2-3 with a 4.47 ERA for the Single A Potomac Nationals with 8 innings of 2 hit, shutout ball in an 8-0 win over Frederick yesterday. He also walked five and struck out six. Plus, Bowden can't take a chance on making a big splash before the trading deadline for fear that a bad deal would make him look bad in the eyes of the new ownership group - whoever that may be. So for those reasons, don't expect to see any of the following in Washington this year:
- Eric Milton (CIN- $5,333,333/year - 16 starts: 3-9 7.70 ERA)
- Roy Oswalt (HOU - $5,900,000/year - 16 starts 9-7 2.70 ERA)
- Kip Wells (PIT - $3,175,000 - 16 starts 5-7 4.26 ERA)
- Jason Schmidt (SF - $8,187,500 - 13 starts 5-3 4.83 ERA)
But it’s clear that the Nats need to strengthen their starting rotation if they intend to contend. What’s unclear is where this help will come from, if it comes at all.
>Nats fans should also be paying attention to what's happening roughly 200 miles to the north in the Bronx, where Yankee GM Brian Cashman is on the hot seat for the underperforming Steinbrenner All-Stars. Why does this matter? Because by the end of the summer, your Nationals will be sold by MLB to the highest bidder (or the best-connected bidder). While there's no doubt that Jim Bowden deserves a chance to steer the ship for the foreseeable future, it's possible that a new ownership group will decide to clear the decks and revamp the entire organization - starting with the front office. And if that happens, Brian Cashman, who has ties to the DC area, could be a leading candidate for Jim Bowden's job.
>Nats fans got a bit of a scare when Nick Johnson left yesterday’s game in the 7th with a bruised heel after an awkward play at the plate, which Robinson blames entirely on Greg Zaun.
>After arriving home to find their cars broken into (or in the case of Marlon Byrd, stolen), Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission (the group in charge of RFK) apologized on Saturday and assured the team that security would be improved. Tuohey’s explanation, according to MLB.com? “The bad guys got in and took advantage of a situation.” Marlon Byrd’s explanation, according to the Post? “Bottom line, it was a [expletive] job done here by the people who work here, a [expletive] job here.”