The Nationals missed an opportunity to overtake the Astros in the wild card chase, dropping a tough 4-3 decision against the Phillies last night. Esteban Loaiza coughed up four earned runs on 10 hits and a walk in 5.2 innings. Bright spots for the Nats included Vinny Castilla's 3rd inning homerun, and Luis Ayala, Joey Eischen, and Gary Majewski combining for 2+ innings of scoreless, hitless relief. The Nats managed to cut the Phillies' lead to 4-3 in the top of the 7th, and had the tying run on third with one out, but neither Carlos Baerga (pop up) nor Ryan Church (ground out) could get the job done.
With one out in 9th and Jose Guillen aboard representing the tying run, Frank Robinson made what might have been his most curious, if not his worst, managerial decision of the season, sending Tony Blanco to the plate to pinch hit for Brian Schneider. Apparently Frank didn't like the lefty-lefty match up with Schneider and Phillies closer Billy Wagner, but Blanco was clearly overmatched, flailing helplessly at Wagner's 95+ MPH heat. Schneider was 0-2 in his career against Wagner, and Blanco was 0-2, so it's not as if the decision was based on some overwhelming piece of statistical data. And even if such statistical data existed, it's unlikely that Frank would have (a) known about it or (b) cared about it. And it still wouldn't have justified the decision to pull Schneider, who has been tearing the cover off the ball lately; with his 7th inning double last night, he extended his hitting streak to 10 games. During those 10 games, he's hitting .438 (14-32), with 3HR and 6RBI. He's also hitting .273 for the year against lefties. Tony Blanco. Tony Blanco!? Seriously!? We're talking about a rookie who has spent most of the year on the DL, had his last at bat almost a week ago (Aug. 11th), and hasn't gotten a hit since June 5th! It just doesn't add up. Lefty-lefty match up be damned, you take your chances with Schneider.
>Meanwhile, in Houston, the Astros got beat 4-2 by the Cubs, so the Phillies move into a tie for the WC lead, and the Nats still trail by a half game. And don't forget the NL East: the Braves beat the Dodgers 10-2, so the Nats fall to 5 1/2 games back.
>Thanks to the rainout Tuesday night, the Nats and Phillies play a crucial double header today: Tony Armas and Vicente Padilla square off in the afternoon, and Ryan Drese and Cory Lidle pitch the nightcap
>One question coming into last night's game was how Cristian Guzman would respond a day after being thrown under the bus by manager Frank Robinson in the wake of his recent spate of error-prone play: "I really don't understand how a major league shortstop of his caliber misses ground balls like that...Straight at him, coming in, ball into the glove, drops out. You know, you could take a guy playing [Class] Z ball and he would at least catch that ball." Not only did Old Frank throw Guzman under the bus, he ran over him, then backed over him again for good measure. Guzman responded with a fantastic play in the 2nd inning, turning a difficult double play with Philadelphia's Todd Pratt bearing down on him at second, then doubled (and eventually scored) in the 3rd. He went 1 for 2 on the evening, raising his average to .190, and was eventually lifted for a pinch hitter (Carlos Baerga) in the 7th. So, the Guzman Watch continues: Will he crack .200? With 43 games remaining, let's assume that Frank won't come to his senses, and starts Guzman every game. So let's say Guzman gets around 170 ABs down the stretch. Guzman was what, a .266 career hitter coming into the season? So let's be generous and assume Guzman hits at around a .260 clip the rest of the way. That would be roughly 45 hits. Given that scenario, he'd finish up with a .215 average. Why does any of this matter at this point? Because Guzman's 4-year, $16.8 deal is a blight on GM Jim Bowden's record, and with a yet-to-be-named owner taking over the team, you can be sure that Bowden's performance is going to be as closely scrutinized as Guzman's. While it will only be one of many factors, a strong finish by Guzman might help strengthen Bowden's case to keep his job. On that note, MLB wants a new owner picked in September.
>Lastly, the Nats picked up Red Sox castoff John Halama from the scrap heap to start against the Mets on Sunday.