Time to dust off your thesaurus to find the most appropriate word to describe the Nationals’ _____________ (adjective of your choice) 9-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves yesterday afternoon at RFK. No matter how you say it, this one hurt. Bad. Despite overcoming a 6-0 deficit and grabbing a 7-6 lead courtesy of a furious five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth, Chad Cordero coughed up three runs in the ninth on a pair of home runs by Chipper and Andruw Jones to send the Nats reeling.
Today marks the team's first day off since their August 29th rain out against Atlanta. Since then, the Nats have gone 6-8, which at first glance seems hardly sufficient for a team that's fighting for a playoff spot. But thanks to a pair of teams (Houston, Philly) that seem unwilling, or incapable, of seizing a decisive lead in the Wild Card standings, the Nats have managed to hang around in this race the last few weeks. With 18 games left on the schedule, the Nats still only trail current WC leader Houston by four. But while the team is still mathematically alive in the hunt for the playoffs, yesterday seemed to be yet another indication that maybe it's just not meant to be. Saturday's tough 4-0 loss took the air out of Friday night's emotional 8-6, come from behind win. With the ragged pitching staff beat up and beaten down, and a clubhouse that is by all accounts pulling in opposite directions, yesterday's loss just might be the nudge that finally pushes the 2005 Nationals season over the edge.
One certainty regarding the Nationals at this point is that Jose Guillen and Brad Wilkerson won't be exchanging Christmas cards in the off-season. After yesterday's loss, Guillen seemed to call out his teammates for a lack of effort: "A lot of times you really need that extra motivation to help your teammates. Lot of times, you see a lot of guys that don't really care, but what can you do? A lot of guys are tired. They probably want to go home." Wilkerson had this advice for Guillen: "If people have problems with people not wanting to win, he needs to tell them and not send it through [the media]...That's the bottom line. We need to take care of it within our team". Meanwhile, John Patterson might not start against the Mets on Tuesday night because he's still battling the flu and a sinus infection. Is this the sort of thing Guillen has a problem with?
One other certainty regarding the team is that Frank Robinson's handling of the fourth slot in the rotation isn't working. Was anyone else surprised to see Jason Bergmann (2IP, 1H, 2ER, 3BB, 3K) exit after just two frames, especially after he seemed to find his legs in the second inning after a shaky first? Ditto for third inning replacement Travis Hughes (1IP, 1H, 1ER, 1K), who despite giving up a homerun to Nats-killer Andruw Jones was throwing strikes, and only threw 10 pitches in the inning. No amount of second guessing will fix any of this, but as Thomas Boswell pointed out in Friday's Post, fans have Robinson and Jim Bowden, and to a lesser extent, Tony Tavares, to thank for the depleted state of the starting rotation.
So the Nats hit the road for three in New York, followed by their final trip of the season to the West Coast for three games against the NL West leading (.500) Padres.