On the Nationals

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Watching the Marlins' last two games against the Nationals brought back to me memories of the Marlins, c. 1999-2001, when the team was assembling the components of its 2003 World Series team, while experiencing many growing pains along the way. The Marlins had talent on those squads; Alex Gonzalez had been an All Star, Luis Castillo was becoming known around the league, and the pitching staff included prospects Brad Penny and AJ Burnett. But the team still had plenty of weak spots, and young talent does not always yield desired results.

The Marlins blew many games in those years. They would lose a game 1-0 one night, then 8-6 the next. They would very rarely put together a complete game; one night the pitching would be great but the defense would commit four errors, the next night the offense would not be able to overcome a starting pitchers' bad outing. The team seemed to lose four out of every five one-run games. They were not bad. In fact they were kind of alright. But they combined a propensity for careless mistakes with bad luck. Watching them in those years could be intensely painful if not for the intermittent games in which they would put everything together and renew your faith.

This year's Nationals squad has the same tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Friday night, despite a dominating performance from starter John Lannan, the Nationals could only put two runs on the board, failing to plate anyone against the Marlins' bullpen after Ricky Nolasco exited before the fifth inning. The Nats blew a 2-1 lead with one out in the ninth, only to see Cody Ross erase it with one swing. The following inning, the Marlins pulled ahead for good on three straight singles.

Saturday, the Nationals scored six runs in two innings off of Josh Johnson, and had to be feeling good with a 4-run lead after the second. But they did not muster a single run afterward, and only managed one base hit over the final nine innings. The Marlins grabbed one run in the 5th when Nick Johnson dropped a routine pop-up with two outs and a runner on third. Then, in the ninth, the bullpen blew another save on a two-run home run to Jeremy Hermida. Hermida repeated the feat with two on in the 11th, sealing another victory.

The losses must be particularly heartbreaking to a fanbase who had little to cheer as the Nats started the season 0-7. The Nats are not a terrible team. They have some decent talent and a few promising young arms in the rotation. But their luck thus far has been terrible, exacerbated by some unfortunate but unforced errors in the last two games. Marlins fans were rewarded with their patience in 2003, we shall see if the Nationals will be able to match the feat.


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