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Nats can’t deliver early knockout punch

Apr 7, 2011, 4:23 AM EST

Associated Press photo
Ian Desmond had four hits but committed a costly error in the Nats’ 7-4 loss.

MIAMI — The fifth inning was “the story of the ballgame,” Jim Riggleman said, and it’s hard to disagree with the manager’s assessment of tonight’s 7-4 loss to the Marlins. It was during that fifth inning when starter Livan Hernandez turned a four-run lead into a tie game after issuing a pair of two-out walks followed by a bases-clearing triple.

The rest of the evening at Sun Life Stadium went exactly as you’d expect after a momentum shift like that. The Nationals’ bullpen and defense betrayed them, and their lineup went silent against Florida’s relief corps.

The end result: their seventh straight loss to the Marlins, and incredibly their 41st in 55 encounters with their division rivals over the last three-plus seasons.

There may be no surer thing in baseball right now than a Florida victory over Washington, and Riggleman and Co. know it.

“You have to start feeling that you’ve got to put these guys away when you have an opportunity,” the manager said. “They’ve got a good group there, and they’ve had their way with us for a couple years now. There’s nothing to do but battle your way out of it and bust open a ballgame to where they can’t come back.”

There’s the key. As painful as Hernandez’s fifth-inning meltdown was, it could have been moot had the Nationals simply taken advantage of their earlier opportunities to pile on and erase any realistic thought of a comeback.
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  1. Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me - Apr 7, 2011 at 4:56 AM

    I know it's early, but I think somebody connected with this team needs to pull a Lee Elia and just start going on a tirade or two. Clearly, the high road isn't working.

  2. Grandstander - Apr 7, 2011 at 4:59 AM

    "It's far too early to hit the panic button"This is the thing I see over and over, and to a certain extent, it's true. You shouldn't pull guys who are known to perform just because of a slow start. The problem is, it's not the known knowns underperforming, it's the known unknowns (to put it in Rumsfeldian). All the question marks have become glaring red lights, screaming for action. Can LaRoche provide the power to replace Dunn? Can Morse become a consistent everyday player? Can Desmond improve his defense? Can the vets in the bullpen provide some stability?All of these, so far, have been, "no!" Now, I know we're only a week into the season, and it's too soon to be making big moves, but at what point does the leash shorten on some of these guys?At some point we're gonna need to stop the bleeding and I don't think we have the answers on our bench or in the minors. I think it's gonna be another rough season.

  3. Jeeves - Apr 7, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    When management chose Coffey and Gaudin over Ballester and Kimball, I began to feel discouraged. Then they had Werth batting second, started both Cora and Hairston after only four games, and continue to make poor (or very unlucky) moves that result in losses. Desmond and Espinosa will go through the inevitable growing pains, but they are exciting and need to play.I still have a lot of faith in his teams offense and bullpen, just not the way they are being implemented.

  4. DCDingo - Apr 7, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    Winning begets more winning. Put the best team out there. There's no use playing for 2012 if it perpetuates the losing mindset of the last few years. Despite all the changes there's an eerily familiar feel to this team so far. Is there kryptonite in the uniforms?

  5. Steve - Apr 7, 2011 at 11:38 AM

    It was great seeing the Nats look competitive in the first two games, but the reality is that this team isn't going anywhere this year. I have believed all along that it isn't going anywhere with Riggleman at the controls, and I remain firmly in that position now.They need to play the kids, let them make their mistakes but get their at-bats and see what they can be. The front office and the manager — and we the fans — need to stop pretending that winning now means anything. If Cora, Hairston and Stairs never get another at-bat with this team that isn't because of an injury-caused gap in the lineup, it will be fine with me.I'd love to see the Nats win over the long term, but I'll settle for competitive, engaged and focused on getting better for the future, not for some pie-in-the-sky idea that they can/should win now. That's what was great about the first two games vs. the Braves, not that they went .500 in them.Here's to the future; may it look much different from the present.

  6. Jim Webster - Apr 7, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    For all of last year, I could not go along with the Fred & Ethel Whiners who were so down on Riggleman in their comments here. But more and more, I'm tempted to accept their view.

  7. joemktg - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    Riggleman never should've mentioned the leadoff switch a few days ago, but had the onions to reverse his tracks and (rightfully) keep Desmond at the top. Worked out last night, as the kid got through his issues. A predictor of things to come? No, but it helps to give these guys the time to adjust (and make modifications).

  8. Feel Wood - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    "It's still a work in progress," Riggleman said of his bullpen. "We're going to have to be able to rely on some other guys. … It's got to work itself out."One really easy way to avoid having to rely too much on a shaky bullpen is to stick with your starter as long as possible when he's pitching well (e.g. Hernandez 3/31, Marquis 4/5). Then on nights when your starter is not pitching well (e.g. Hernandez 4/6) your bullpen guys are fresh and available to pick up the slack. One aspect of being a good manager is the ability to figure stuff like this out. Riggleman's been managing for over a decade and hasn't figured it out yet.

  9. DFL - Apr 7, 2011 at 12:11 PM

    Jeeves is absolutely correct. Riggleman is getting panicky and should get the hook right now before the Nats' confidence is blown. Bat Espinosa lead-off and Desmond second and push everyone back a spot. Stop the dimwitted double-switches. Send Coffey or Gaudin to Syracuse and bring up Balester. No finding playing time for Cora and Hairston. They are well paid back-ups. Espinosa, Desmond, Werth, Zimmerman, LaRoche and Morse should be expected to start 150+ games, barring injury.

  10. N. Cognito - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    Sometimes things aren't the way they seem and there is a natural human tendency to put more weight on events that stand out in our minds, but it sure seems to me that the Nats stop hitting in the last half of games a heck of a lot more than should be expected.

  11. Anonymous - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:42 PM

    ValenTINE! ValenTINE! ValenTINE!

  12. Anonymous - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    These are the same old Nats.They find a new way to lose, every chance they get.I am sorry I drank the off-season Kool Aid. Glad I showed up for Opening Day (a loss, as usual), now I can switch off and go back to sleep.The only question at this point is whether they will challenge for 100 losses again. My guess is not, but 90 are a virtual certainty.

  13. 320R2S15 - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    I think Levo got screwed last night. The guy behind the plate set him up to fail by the pie plate strike zone.The TV guys were right about the point that if LH don't get the black, then he has to go over the plate and that spells doomsday. The scum bag ump has to know that and he refused to give it to him. That's why I hate umps, they have to much control over the game plus they do it with attitude. What a shame, but I do believe we will see much better things from this group and I dom't care how well Morgan and Dunn are doing right now, I'm glad they are both gone.

  14. josh f - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    Mark – Is LaRoche's shoulder problem affecting his swing? He and Morse have been a big liability in the lineup so far.I still think this team can win 75 games, but this is NOT the way I expected them to start.

  15. NatsJack in Florida - Apr 7, 2011 at 1:57 PM

    N.Cognito….You hit the nail on the head. David Eckstein needs to look at this and provide our hitters with the proper adjustments.Too many long swings that can't or won't adhere to the "shorten stroke" and "barrel up" approach.

  16. JD - Apr 7, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    I don't think there is too much to over analyze about yesterday's game; I really didn't have a problem with any of the moves. If Livo gets an umpire who won't give him the corners he is going to be in trouble; he can't live in the middle of the strike zone; Taschida was squeezing both pitchers yesterday resulting in a bunch of walks. It figures that the first time our lead off man get on base all night Werth and Zim have an off day; it happens. On another note I don't love the composition of our team either; I can do without Gaudin, Coffee,Nix and pudge; I think that the thought process was to fill in the roster with veterans in an effort to approach respectability (.500). I think the problem is that you can't really achieve this with crappy veterans.

  17. Don - Apr 7, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    As frustrating as the last few games have been there is a lot of good going on too. The first half of both these games have been glorious and exciting. The team is pushing the envelope, taking risks and driving in runs.N. Cognito is right, the problem is the second half. It's almost as if the team goes into prevent defense, gets conservative, the momentun shifts and they begin to fall behind. It's not surprising given the last few years, it's a mindset change.Compare the first five innings with the last four in these last three games, they look like two totally different teams. We'll get there, but it's going to take some time and patience, so far I'm frustrated, especially this Marlins series, but also encouraged and excited about what's to come when they pull it all together.df

  18. Sec 3, My Sofa - Apr 7, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    NCognito — "it sure seems to me that the Nats stop hitting in the last half of games a heck of a lot more than should be expected."**************So much for that "3rd time thru the lineup, hitters adjust" idea.Srsly, how many of the starters had the same knock? I'm not saying they all quit playing after the 5th, but maybe it's not just the players, alone, who lose it.

  19. Theophilus - Apr 7, 2011 at 2:13 PM

    If people haven't noticed, the Nats are a team of streak hitters. Nobody on the team, last year or this year, including Zimmerman, is immune to a 1-for-20. Right now you've got four guys in the lineup who aren't hitting well, or at all, and two guys who have respectable (but not great) averages but aren't getting timely hits. Plus Desmond — you don't know if he's on a streak or last night was an aberration — and Espinosa, who any day could start an 0-for-18. Eventually, a bunch of them will put it all together at the same time and they'll have a 4-5 game hot streak. But there's no Utley, Prado, vintage Chipper Jones, Pedroia, Texiera who puts the pressure on the defense every at bat, every single day. Conclusion: this group is going to have dry spells, leave a lot of runners on base, and suffer late inning fades.As to Gaudin, Coffey, the less said the better. Take up a collection for their bus fare to the California Independent League. Broderick, I don't know what to do with. Seems like he's worth keeping (certainly more so than a bunch of clods in the system) but not if he can't be trusted.

  20. Theophilus - Apr 7, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    This is one place where I'll criticize Riggleman — not about utilizing his bench or pulling his starters — but about "small ball." Yes, racing around the bases last night was fun to watch but the assumption that 2 or 3 runs would be enough to beat the Marlins was fatally flawed. Hernandez at his best (2010) gives up 3.66 earned runs per game. That means that, to have a 50/50 chance of winning, you need to score 4 or 4.5 runs per game. Somehow they squeezed (no pun intended) four runs out of the first four innings but left a bunch of runners on base. Putting the emphasis on small ball takes some players (Werth comes to mind) out of their element. You've got guys (e.g., Ankiel) concentrating on putting down a bunt, setting the stage for failure in the latter stages of the game when you want them to drive it to the wall. In short, behind Hernandez, Marquis, etc., playing for a run or two doesn't make sense.Santangelo said something last night with which I disagree — that the Nats "need 50 more HR in their lineup." They've got at least 145-150 HR in the group they've got. (Unless Morse and Ankiel turn out to be total busts.) What they need is for some of those HR to come w/ two men on base.

  21. Tim - Apr 7, 2011 at 3:25 PM

    Hmmm… lots to ponder today. It's amazing to think we've lost 44 of 55 vs. the Marlins. We need to get in a brawl or something to break out of this. Where's Nyger when you need him?I'd first do some lineup shaking: 1) Desmond 2) Espy 3) Zim 4) LaRoche 5) Werth 6) Morse 7) Ramos 8) Ankiel.Secondly, I'd be looking to call up Balester & Co.Thirdly, I'd spike the water cooler in the FL dugout.

  22. Sec 3, My Sofa - Apr 7, 2011 at 3:33 PM

    Re: "small ball" — Somebody a long time ago said, if you play for one run, that's what you'll get–ONE run.

  23. Anonymous - Apr 7, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    This organization desperately needs Eury Perez to continue to develop. You could argue that his development is more important than anyone in the system not named Bryce Harper.

  24. Curly W - Apr 7, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    …..all the losing just seems to run together. Just look about 20 miles North to a ball club that is heading in the right direction. GM, Manager, Owner all in line! Same old crap …..year after year what a joke!

  25. Curly W - Apr 7, 2011 at 9:36 PM

    EXPECT IT!Santangelo ("good old fashion country hard ball") ain't much in the booth but he does provide some humor. I really liked the part when he said Pudge was still hustling at his age. The replay had him dogg'n it all the way down the line!Freak'n homers ……. bring Dibs back!

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