Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Embarrassed by their aura

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Livan Hernandez suffered through his worst start of the season.
Sign No. 1 it was a bad night: The manager laments the "aura hanging over us."

Sign No. 2 it was a bad night: Multiple players use the word "embarrassed."

Sign No. 3 it was a bad night: Hours after the franchise's great young hope went on the disabled list for the second time in a month, said ballclub went out and lost 9-1 to a Cubs team whose manager abruptly retired 24 hours earlier.

Surely, there have been worse days in Nationals history. This, however, would probably rank among the bottom five.

As if Stephen Strasburg's return trip to the DL (perhaps for the remainder of the season) wasn't bad enough, the Nats then went out and played a stinker of a ballgame that prompted Jim Riggleman to address his players and demand better effort.

"We've just got to play with more energy," the manager said. "Even though the game is flattening us out because we're out there in the field a long time, we've got to find a way. We've got to turn it up a notch."

Riggleman continued.

"Our guys play hard," he said. "They play with intensity. But it's a 162-game schedule, and you've got to play 162 games. Tonight, I felt like we allowed the game situation -- the long innings and stuff, just our body language on the field -- it allowed us to have an aura hanging over us that it's just not happening for us tonight."

That "aura" started hovering over Nationals Park during a laborious top of the third in which Livan Hernandez allowed the Cubs' first seven batters to reach base, five of them ultimately scoring before the inning came to its merciful conclusion after 44 pitches.

"Nothing worked," said Hernandez, who wound up throwing an astronomical 121 pitches in only 4 1/3 innings. "I'm a little mad. I'm very disappointed because of what I do today. ... It's a rough day. We lost, and we lost ugly."

Down five runs early with many in the sparse crowd of 17,921 rooting for the Cubs, the Nationals essentially rolled over and played dead the rest of the evening. For six innings, they produced exactly one hit off Casey Coleman, Chicago's heretofore anonymous rookie right-hander making his second career start.

Players credited Coleman for pitching well. At the same time, they acknowledged they could have attacked the 23-year-old with a little more gusto.

"I'm not trying to take anything away from that pitcher. He deserves everything he did tonight," Willie Harris said. "But at the same time, I think we could have given a better effort."

It wouldn't be so alarming had this been an isolated performance in the middle of a hot streak. But this game came on the heels of another uninspired showing yesterday in Philadelphia (a 6-0 loss to Roy Oswalt) while also dropping the Nationals to a season-low 19 games under .500.

It's been a difficult month for this club. Strasburg's latest injury is tough enough to accept. Throw in Josh Willingham's season-ending injury, Adam Dunn's 7-for-52, 23-strikeout slump and a 7-14 August record, and you've got the potential for things to completely unravel.

"We've got to come together as a unit and really try to finish this thing off strong and not give up on ourselves, even though things are kind of crumbling right now," Nyjer Morgan said. "We've got to be true professionals here and show what we're made of by our character. ... It's snowballing, but we can't let that snowball get any bigger."

If the Nationals aren't careful, a once-promising season could look less-than-promising six weeks from now.

Since reaching their high-water mark of 20-15 way back on May 14, the Nats have gone 33-57, third-worst in the majors ahead of only the Orioles and Pirates. That's a .367 winning percentage, which roughly equates to 59 wins over a full season.

That's really bad.

Fortunately from the Nationals' perspective, that strong start helps mask the substandard three months since and will prevent them from finishing with a record that resembles those from 2008 and 2009. At 53-72, the Nats would have to go 9-28 down the stretch to reach 100 losses. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

Then again, the 72-win pace this club was on for most of the summer has since diminished. In order to finish 72-90, the Nats will need to go 19-18 the rest of the way. Minus Strasburg and Willingham, that doesn't sound too plausible.

The onus is now on Riggleman to keep his clubhouse together. Even during some rough stretches, the Nationals have played with effort all season. They've managed not to spiral into some of the long losing streaks (seven games, eight games, nine games) that plagued the last two versions of this team. But it could be tough to convince these guys to sustain the effort over the season's final 37 games. There's little left to play for. And if Strasburg doesn't return, that's one less reason for everyone to get excited every fifth day.

Riggleman, ever the optimist, points to his team's strong finish in 2009 -- the Nats closed it out on a seven-game winning streak -- as evidence of what can happen when players push hard through the finish line.

"You know, that's where we were last year," he said. "That's what happened last year, and we passed the test. We played hard all the way through. And that's what we're going to do this year. And if we don't, then we'll change things around to where we do."


Dave said...

I was at this stinker. It ranks among the worst Nationals games I've attended in the past six years.

Funny you should mention rolling over and playing dead, Mark. That's exactly what Willie Harris did on Soriano's triple.

I keep score for all the games I attend, and my system marks each and every pitch. The Cubs side of the scorebook this evening was an uglier blob of pencil lead than in any game I have scored in the past two years.

Ernie said...


I laughed at your comment about the scorebook. I was there tonight as well. I've been to 25 home games this year (Nats are 8-17 at them) and kept score of every one. Somewhere around the 6th inning tonight my wife and I started flipping back to decide which game was the ugliest. we decided that tonight's game beat out the Marquis disaster and the opening day fiasco for the year. The fact that the Nats' side of the scorebook was so clean tonight made the difference for us.

The usher in my section chuckles at me each night I leave anymore, asking my why I'm still here. I'm starting to wonder the same thing. Only 5 more games in the package though. At least most of them are against good teams.

Anonymous said...

A hideous, sickening affair. One of those games where you feel like the players are spitting in your face, saying, "We're millionnaires, we're getting ready to play golf for three months straight, you stupid slugs in the stands--eat it!"

A lazy, we-could-care-less bore-a-thon. The Nats turn another anonymous pitcher into Koufax.

It's pathetic at the end of games like this. Zimm is out. Dunn is out. The team has quit. But they have to play out the string of innings, just like the team plays out the string of games before they all get the fall and winter off to play golf.

Even Bernadina's swing to end the game was perfunctory. I think he was wearing street shoes. I thought I saw car keys in his back pocket while he was batting.

The Nationals made fools of their fans tonight.

Dave said...

@Ernie, I wasn't at the Marquis implosion, but I was at Opening Day. I checked that scorebook page this evening to compare.

The Phillies side was full of offense, but it was spread out over all nine innings. I could actually perceive some white paper beneath my markings.

Tonight's third through sixth innings were an intensely hideous mess. Storen's one inning stands out as a well-pitched shutdown of the Cubs after Livo started giving everything up.

And, as you say, there was nothing to write on the Nats side. Just a series of 1-2-3 innings.

It's a sign of how bummed I am that I'm still awake, posting comments on blogs about this game.

My next game is this Saturday versus the Cardinals. I have high hopes that the Nats will play halfway decently, as they seem to do against teams better than they are. It's mostly the sorry, mediocre teams like the Cubs who seem to dominate them.

Unknown said...

I, too, was at this game and left during the 5th inning. A lovely (temperature-wise!) night, but my dad and I were already sick of the lack of effort and the extreme likelihood it was going to be another blowout. The team faces the real possibility of a third straight 100-loss season. It's a joke.

Anonymous said...

Mark ... is Riggleman still safe? Rizzo is no fool, and although he endorsed him a few weeks ago, I've got to believe that he has noticed the August decline. A manager talking about bad "auras" is hardly inspiring. Riggleman should have flipped over the clubhouse table tonight, as out of character as that would be for him, but that's how bad they were tonight. Tough to convince these guys to sustain the effort? If that's the case, Riggleman's got to go. Who do they think they are to lay down like they've done the past two days? I'm so tired of hearing Riggleman say how hard they compete ... even tonight in the middle of his half-hearted "lay down the law," he went out of his way to remind us how hard this team plays. I just don't see it. What happened to all that clubhouse talk the first two months of the year about how this team was different, how nobody wanted to play them, how the opposing manager's were all commenting about how much progress they've made? This season is turning from one of great promise, to one of great disappointment. Read all the boards tonight ... the fans are angry. I'm a 6 year STH ... this was without a doubt one of the worst nights in the teams' history. At least we should find out something tomorrow night about them ... if they come out and sleep walk again, then I'm afraid a change is necessary.

Vito said...

I agree with all that was said here, as a STH last night was just flat out awful. It was embarrassing losing to those jokers from Chicago like that. Only Pudge looked ready to go firing the ball all over the infield to keep runners in check. Typically I enjoy my games & experience at the Park but last night was new low for me and maybe the Nats.

dale said...


Look at the players first. This team values "feelings" over performance. Our pitching comes and goes but the hitters usually show up for one game out of four. How many extra inning games have we won? How many games have we scored all of our runs prior to the sixth innning? How many series have we scored most of our runs in one game and then rack up less than two runs in the remaining games? This team exists on the vapors of "playing hard". I would love to see that changed to "playing to win".

LoveDaNats said...


JayB said...

Mark says, Nats since May 15 - "That's really bad."

My question to you all and Mark really is what was your first clue...why has it taken you 4 months to finally see it?

I too was at the game right in front of a diving Willie Harris and a standing still Kennedy. When the ball dropped, Kennedy looked at Harris and Harris looked at Kennedy both saying....well are you going to go get the ball or should we allow Alfonso to hit a HR?"

It was a cool night but even in the 1st inning players from the Nats were walking on and off the field. Not just walking but drudging...we don't have anyone who wants to play MLB baseball? Well then Get Some now.

Microcosm of the problem is how they treated Ramos and Wil N. Sorry but that stupid roster move told everyone on the club..."winning is not important and we don't really care about winning baseball here in Natstown."

Riggs must be fired. Again...good bench coach, nice man, loser...LOSER!

Another Microcosome....Harper sitting on his ass all summer and then Rizzo letting him sit on his ASS for two weeks once he is signed. Send a message to to you club, your fans....Time to work for that money Kid....Get your ass down to FL and we will introduce you to our fans when you earn it. (I understand the option thing....he but he had to go that next day to FL and start working...it was just that simple and RIzzo blew it big time.

Sunderland said...

Riggleman? Yes Riggleman.

I've never in my life been so certain that a manager was a major part of the problem.

Listened to Riggleman pre-game, talking about how Lou Piniella would "tell it to you straight, and if he hurt your feelings, (pause, to consider his phrasing such that he did not hurt Lou's feelings), well I gues he'd deal with that later".

I laughed out loud. Riggleman, who praises guys who make boneheaded plays ("he sure gave a lot of effort on that play"), who created an infield platoon to not hurt Guzman and Kennedy's feelings (notice Desmond and Kennedy are hitting over .300 since playing almost every day), who operates as if a major priority is to not ever hurt anyone's feelings.

Yes Riggleman.

He's out managed himself during games more than I can recall (Ian Desmond and Alberto Gonzalez in right field due to double switches).

The players know as well as anyone that they are not going places with Riggleman at the helm. They like Riggleman. They like Wil Nieves too. They do not want Riggs or Nieves to lose their jobs. But it's the nature of competition, the nature of this business.

Look at this year's roster.
Better than last year? Sure.
Playing better than last year? Nope.

Mistakes go uncorrected for months (Nyjer's sloppy baserunning and poor defensive decisions).

Yes, Riggleman.

I'll be incredibly disappointed if he returns.
But at least it will take any suspense away from next season. 70 wins, 90 losses, welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Well, I predicted 4 or 5 hits from the anemic lineup we put out there last night but I didn;t think a horrible rookie pitcher would one hit us! 90 losses is very attainable.

JayB said...

This time is going to lose 100 games again very soon....in about a month.

Nats have created this problem...they created a losing culture and even celebrate a losing culture by keeping Harper on his Ass for 2 extra weeks in order to "introduce him"....to what....yup his LOSING teammates and a ever shrinking Fan base that for the most part just does not care. My STH group is done....I am not but the trend of chasing baseball fans out of the park continues yet again this year. Thanks Mr. Lerner your doing a great imitation of Mr. Short.

Knoxville Nat said...

Completely off subject but did Carpenter and/or Dribble mention last night that the Cubs rookie pitcher, Casey Coleman, is the son of former Senators and Tigers pitcher Joe Coleman?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Dibble for calling out Little Baby Stephen, the Nats version of Albert Haynesworth...kids today are too soft and they are told they are special and a bunch of other crap...get out there and do your job MEAT aka Stephen Strasburg! This franchise is making the Orioles and Pirates look good!

Mr Baseball said...

If Riggleman is retained, we will continue to be at the botton of the league. How can anyone get any confidence when you are in and out of the lineup.

Baseball is a game of confidence! With Rigglesman's double switches and lefty vs righty out guys will not develope or gain any confidence.

When do you find out if Ramos, Maxwell and others can play? Put them out there for the rest of the season and get your answers. Heck, "I'll be sending the wrong message if I don't play Nieves, Kennedy they have been here all year." Correct point! They have had their opportunties and didn't produce.

I still say our best outfield for the remainder of the season is; LF-Morgan, CF-Maxwell and RF-Bernadina. Also, Put Morse and Dunn only at 1B.

No wonder we have pitching problems, I have never seen anyone obuse a staff like Riggleman. One inning here everyday and one batter (righty vs righty and lefty vs lefty). You are still using your arm when you get loose everyday. A pitcher with any confidence can get anyone out! You don't develope when you can't work through the situations.

Something has to change and it has to be Riggleman. He is a good coach and that's it. It didn't take Seattle and Chicago long to figure this out.

JayB said...

San D. Too....they fired Riggs also.....Rizzo has to stop sitting on his hands and hopping things improve or he will be looking for a new job and his Dad will go back to collecting Social Security. This team Sucks....talent is fine...TEAM SUCKS...that is on Rizzo as much as Rigss. Thing is Riggs works for Rizzo so he goes first.

natsfan1a said...

Knoxville, yes, that was mentioned. If memory serves, it was during a pregame segment.

Ernie said...

Just tossing an idea out there...does anyone think that Willinghanm's absence has contributed significantly to the problem? I know I feel worse seeing lineups without him listed, but I also know others on this site are not big fans of him. His injury didn't make this team bad, but is it making the team worse?

Also, did Riggleman even try to explain why Desmond had the night off last night, particularly after having such a great weekend? I'm guessing if he addressed it at all it was the same old schtick about getting everyone a chance to play, but I thought I'd check anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness Rizzo didn't rush out and sign Dunn to an extension! This team is going to be a loss or two away from losing two hundred games over the past two seasons. We should be looking to get rid of as many of these losers as we can. You get a 7-14 record when your clean up hitter goes 7-52!

Dave said...

Why do people keep mentioning Maxwell as somebody who should stay on the team in the future?

He. Cannot. Hit.

Unless the National League introduces the designated fielder, he has no business playing on a major-league team.

And please, no more of this BS about how he just needs a "real chance to show his stuff." He first came up for a cup of coffee with the big club in 2006, and has been up every year except 2008. He's been on this year's team in April, May, July and August. He currently bats .103. His lifetime BA is .202.

Each and every time I have seen him bat in the past month, he has seemed to shut his eyes and swing wildly at the ball, no matter where it was in or out of the zone. He is a guaranteed out, and the other teams now know this.

Can we please cut our losses on the Justin Maxwell experiment, once and for all?

N. Cognito said...

Ernie said...

"The usher in my section chuckles at me each night I leave anymore, asking my why I'm still here."

That usher should be fired.

JayB said...

Yea....blame the ushers...that will fix the LOSER mentality set by ownership down...PROFIT FIRST...that is the moto....

Section 222 said...

I didn't make it to the game last night, was still driving back from vacation. But I caught some of this lousy team's lousy game on the lousy flagship radio station with lousy reception. Sure got me excited for heading back to the park this week. Ugh.

Yes, Rizzo should revisit his support for Riggleman. He's a mediocre manager well-suited for a mediocre team. No, it doesn't make a darn bit of difference when Harper goes down to Florida. I'm still for signing Dunn; after this month, maybe he'll be more inclined to accept a reasonable 3 year contract. That's the silver lining I'm hoping for.

Mr Baseball said...

Maxwell may never hit but you sure can't judge a player once every three or four games and as a pinch hitter. We are in LAST PLACE play him everyday for the rest of the season and get an answer once and for all. He may only be a Minor League hitter but at least there he is getting a chance to get in a groove. The time recently when he got two hits he was out of the line-up the next day. THAT DOES NOT DEVELOPE CONFIDENCE! Hitting has alot to do with getting your confidence. What do we have to lose, we are losing anyway. The main thing is getting your answers on players for the future.

At my age, I would like to see a team WIN in Washington!

Dave said...

No, no, no, I'm not talking about the spotty playing time Maxwell has gotten this summer.

I'm talking about a .202 career batting average. I'm talking about a 26-year-old man (not a kid any longer) who obviously has no approach whatsoever at the plate.

This is not t-ball. Players should not be put into a lineup in order to develop[e] their confidence.

Unless...oh, wait: is Jimmy actually Mr. Riggleman himself?

Sorry, sir. I forgot, you do put players in to develop their confidence. My bad.

JayB said...

Maxwell is not a prospect and has NO CHANCE of ever hitting....Dave is right, we have watched him for going of 4 seasons in AAA and MLB...he has NO CLUE, none at all....Rizzo what does your "super smart" scouts think about his swing and approach?

Anonymous said...

Let's hope Dunn's demands are outrageous and they let him move on. He's never played on a winning team and if he stays, that trend will no doubt continue.

Anonymous said...

Let's call up Tyler Moore in September and see if he can play at the big league level, if he plays well, Dunn is gone.

Sunderland said...

Dave, on Maxwell

Unless the National League introduces the designated fielder, he has no business playing on a major-league team.

OK, now that's funny, I don't care who you are.

Maxwell seems to me like a guy who might get it together at the plate enough to be a decent bench player. It's hard to imagine any more for him.

Is he getting in the way of anyone in AA or AAA?
So no harm in keeping him around.
And given that we're not quite in the hunt for a playoff spot, I'd be up for giving him some extended, regular playing time between now and October 4th's tee time.
It's not like we're sitting here in late August with better options.

JayB, on Harper doing nothing after signing.
Right on.
Since when did "introducing" become a priority?
Get him in Viera. Teach him to put on a uniform without smearing eye black all over your face. Get him with an instructor doing drills patrolling right field. Something to make sure he understands that while he did indeed earn his contract, he now has to earn a job.

Mr Baseball said...


Have you ever been a coach? Well, I have been for over 40 years and have had many successful teams. State Champions and on down! I agree he isn't a baby anymore and that's why I would want an answer once and for all. Maxwell has been a 202 hitter, as you say, but he has never gotten any consistent playing time. I'll guarantee if they play games with Ramos, the same thing will happen. You can't take a player and use him like a yo-yo. You have to see if he can settle in and develope under the hitting coach.

It's as Dibble or Knight stated last night, "You have to see live pitching on a consistance basics. Your 65-70 mile batting practice pitching is not going to cut it."

I guess you still want to see Willie Harris, over 30 years old, continue to struggle. His days are behind him. He is just a utility player, not a starter!

Richard said...

I'm okay with introducing Harper to WDC. It's marketing. As we know, MLB costs a lot of $$$ and marketing is a big part of it. And Rizzo has been quoted to the effect that, contractually, Harper is not going to play in the GCL, so apparently there's no hurry to get him to Viera. I don't know what's up that contract provision, i.e., who benefits and how, but I'd like to.

alm100 said...

Last night was dreadful to watch, but at least on TV we can change the channel.

I said early in the game that it felt like the team was just rolling down a hill to the end of another terrible season.

Planned to attend on Thursday but Harper taking BP is not enough of a draw to get me there. My next game is Saturday for the Pudge bobble.

I like Riggs and his managing style worked the first 6 weeks but after that he mismanaged the line-up in the inter-league games and really the rest of the year over-playing Harris and Guzman, sitting players after good games and before or after days off. Also the starting pitching has sucked (Livo excepted) all year and he continued to go to Clippard when it was clear to everyone who watches the team, except him, that he had lost it.

Riggleman has got to go at the end of the season.

Come-on Nats wake up.

Ernie said...

@alm100: I'd forgotten what you mentioned about interleague play. That did seem like the point where Riggs started sitting players who were hot, and getting overly concerned about keeping his bench players fresh. Was it just that the story started getting reported along those lines, or did he really change philosophies at that time? I remember thinking that it felt like the team was treating AL competition like exhibition games (and losing them about the same as they did the exhibition games in spring training...)

Dave said...

@Jimmy, I did not mention Willie Harris a single time. He sucks too.

I just don't understand why the Nationals need to keep trotting a guaranteed out to the plate over and over again. You really think Maxwell is going to be an outfielder of the Nats' future? At age 28 or 29?

Sunderland is probably right: at best he is a bench player, if he has a career left. But then, a bench player doesn't see big-league pitches on a consistent basis, either. So where are you then?

Bernadina is doing pretty well in the big leagues now, despite not having consistent playing time on the big club in past seasons. The difference is, when Bernadina came to the big leagues, he did something with his chance.

But Maxwell, not so much.

N. Cognito said...

JayB said...
"Yea....blame the ushers...that will fix the LOSER mentality set by ownership down...PROFIT FIRST...that is the moto...."

The usher is an employee of the Nats and even as bad as they are many times, he should not be putting them down in front of customers.
Even an idiot should be able to figure that out.
What is your excuse? Oh yeah...any reason to whine and moan.

Anonymous said...


You are full of s*it; you live for these bad days; it allow you to spew out all the negativity which is bottled up inside you. If it's not Riggleman; it's Rizzo if not Rizzo it's Kasten; if not Kasten it's the Lerners. On days like yesterday you can trash all of them. Ain't life grand?

natsfan1a said...

I don't know, I have heard JayB sound positively joyous on occasion.

meixler said...

"It's purple! Your aura is purple!"

Mark said...

@Jimmy the coach for 40+ years - what do you see in Maxwell's approach at the plate that the rest of us (some of the rest of us) aren't seeing. I agree with Dave, Maxwell just seems to be up there swinging. As opposed to having a plan, working the count, and looking for a good pitch to hit.

Anonymous said...

Maxwell thinks he is a power hitter. His approach leads to strike outs. Its the same approach he uses when he leads off. There has been come improvement (he has learned to walk more) but those swings take too long and he puts the bat back to cock it to hit the long ball ... not to make contact. Has anyone talked to him about this? Surely as the day is long. Has Maxwell ever listened? No.

Anonymous said...

"It's purple! Your aura is purple!"

My aura is Indigo silly .. I am an Indigo. What of it?

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