Sunday, August 31, 2008


Once again, our Nats are the Hottest Team in….No, we won’t be traveling down that road of (only slight) hyperbole again. Not after our last such declaration apparently induced some sort of Bob-Carpenter-like jinxing on the team, leading to a loss that night and, just days later, the start of twelve straight…well, you know.

No, this time we’ll just revel in the two consecutive series sweeps the Nats have laid down, flush with timely, consistent hitting from a healthy, Elijah-Dukes-containing lineup and increasingly shut-down pitching from closer-in-rising Joel Hanrahan.

Want a bigger optimistic picture? The sweeping away of the Dodgers and Braves closed out an August in which the Nationals played nearly .500 baseball (14-15). Who would have thought this possible 11 days ago, with a naysayer-bringing-out non-winning streak still very much intact and the August record sitting at 6-13? Well, we did.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Mighty Have Been Brought Lowe

So much for the jocking of Derek Lowe. So much, also, for the notion printed recently in the same Nationals Journal that Collin Balester is good for only one run through the opposing lineup. With his five inning of one-run ball last night, he faced 23 batters, good for 2+ trips through the Dodgers. His outdueling of the mighty Lowe is shades of Levale Speigner showing up the even more-vaunted Johan Santana in Minnesota last summer. Maybe.

The pitfalls of following the game online were evident as I read the game recap detailing Ryan Zimmerman’s apparently double-play soaked glove. Somehow I get the feeling that dry GIDP numbers on a monitor don’t do him justice.

Tonight: Tim Redding v. the hanger-on that is Greg Maddux. Redding saved us all from more Chico Harlan snippiness with his streak-ending performance last week. A streak-extender this time, perhaps?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Making a Great Thing Even Better

What's better than celebrating the end of a 12-game losing streak? What's better than seeing the streak snapped by a game featuring late-inning clutch hits from a young newcomer, an up-and-coming young catcher, and a struggling outfielder, a bold and ultimately rewarded managerial decision to bat the closer in the eighth inning with the bases loaded, and the sublime jam-escaping skills of that same closer?

What's better is celebrating that accomplishment on the 1-year anniversary of this:

If that doesn't start your weekend off right, nothing will.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Redding to the Rescue

It's been a while since we've made any kind of bold Nationals-related guarantee. The last (and likely only) was a bold proclamation in May 2007 that the Nats would not lose 100 games. This at what turned out to be the absolute nadir of Washington's season: an eight-game losing streak dropping them to 9-25 and bringing the "worst team of all-time" vultures out in force.

Well we've reached a similar nadir. A dozen games in a row dropped. Can it get any worse? No. It ends tonight. Tim Redding, he of the 2-runs-in-six-innings specialty, will put this to rest and stop, at least temporarily, snippy Chico-Harlan-penned Nats Journal entries. Is there anyone this side of Jason LaCanfora who likes a pile-on more than Chico?

Book it. Nats win tonight.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Other Unwanted Quarterback Story

Well, Brett Favre is well on his way to being King of New York after throwing six pre-season passes for the Jets. It’s such a story of redemption after he was treated oh so meanly by the Packers. There’s no sense dwelling on this aspect of Saturday’s game except to say we look forward to the coming regicide after his first four-interception game.

Instead, let’s dwell on Colt Brennan, aptly described by some as the best player no one wanted. Looks like his being drafted waaaaaay down at 168 could turn into the equivalent of taking Randy Moss late in a fantasy draft last year (like, um, two bloggers you might know). That is, a player with gaudy statistics being overlooked again and again because of some irrational reservations becomes a key contributor. Brennan may just do it as a backup, but we’ve seen what Todd Collins (Todd freakin’ Collins!) can do when a season-saving starting job is thrust upon him. How much more could Mr. 14,000 yards in Three Years bring if similarly saddled?

One thing he’s already saddled with: that #5, something of a, well, cursed number for Redskins’ quarterbacks, thanks to some other guy who wore that number (we won’t mention his name, as it would be equivalent to a John-Carpenter-on-John-Lannan, no-hitter-killing jinx). He’s dealing with that nicely, however, on the road to perhaps purging that wretched burgundy digit of its demons.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, pre-season, third-string defenses, meaningless games, etc. Well, apparently rookie Colt Brennan passes better against third-string defenses than veteran Mike Nugent kicks against third-string special teams units, or than Eric Mangini playcalls late in games against third-string units of all kinds.

In any case, isn’t it better having a pre-season focus on a rising backup QB, rather than engaging in another tired round of "Mark Brunnell vs. somebody" debates? The answer is yes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Intentional Stupidity?

For much of the summer, Yahoo!’s PuckDaddy blog has featured an ongoing series “Five Ways I’d Change the NHL”. Matt Bradley chipped in not long ago, much as he chips in goals throughout a season (shootout and otherwise).

Today, Ross McKeon threw his own ideas into the ring. We at DCO mostly remember Ross for his downright slanderous remarks on Ovie and the Caps during the All-Star Break (along with the typically expected mourning over Sid’s owie ankle ruining the entire league). This time, he takes his shot at the entire Caps organization in his very first “suggestion”. I’ll paste it here so there is no need to waste time reading the rest of his drivel:

1. Less is more: We're talking contraction here, fewer teams means better quality of play and so much more. Ding six franchises to get the league down to 24 teams (12 per conference, six in each of four divisions). Who goes? Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators. Hey, look at that, no more Southeast Division.

Typical cheap-shotting of the the SE division. Typical ignorance. Typical Don-Cherry-Canadian-elitist-like snobbery towards teams not possessing golden boys and/or not located in Montreal or Toronto. Sounding a little like Eric Kay from last fall, too.

The initial reaction here at DCO was, of course, a long-winded, blistering post on McKeon’s optimism-hating, Sidney-loving soul. But maybe, just maybe, he’s being stupid for stupid’s sake, making such outrageous comments as to illicit just such a reaction (he got some, too, in his comments section). It’s a pretty logical assumption, because no hockey analyst who is at all deserving of being a hockey analyst (a PAID one, too!) could possibly suggest contracting as up-and-coming a team as the Capitals. It would be the greatest, most outlandish admission of knee-jerk simplistic one-track thinking since Sidney Crosby won an ESPY for “best player in the NHL”.

So he has to be joking.

UPDATE 8/14: Ted Leonsis pens the well-thought-out response.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Corner-Turning Weekend Part II

A few days later than planned, and while we prepare to see more pleasant surprises tonight against Buffalo, let’s count the ways the Redskins turned some corners of their own last weekend.

1. The start of getting some serious HOF recognition for the glorious Gibbs years. Gibbs, Riggins, now Monk and Green. Hopefully soon to be joined by Grimm, Jacoby, etc. But at least for now the population of NFL-dominating Redskins is increased significantly.

2. Jim Zorn looking confident and “with it” on the sideline, easily managing the Gibbs-built team, and not appearing overwhelmed, even drawing admiring commentary from Michaels and Madden for his rampant stoicism.

3. Related to the above, and Mike Wise commented on this earlier this week, the team took the first step to leaving behind those glory days of the 80s and early 90s. They will always be remembered, but never identically duplicated.

4. They stayed out of the Brett Favre fiasco. A Dan Snyder of even just five years ago might have dropped and/or traded everything to land such a marque name. While there were early rumors of the Redskins making a bid, the blow was (again) struck for continuity in the team’s name not surfacing for weeks in conjunction with Favre. There is confidence in Jason Campbell. There will be no repeat of Mark Brunell usurping Patrick Ramsey.

5. Speaking of quarterbacks, how about that Colt Brennan lad? Yes, yes. Preseason, third-stringers, garbage time, blah blah blah. But how about all three quarterbacks? Campbell: perfect. Collins: still grasping at a new system, but nearly perfect. Brennan: first professional action and within one incompletion of complete perfection. The QB situation may be more stable than we thought, more stable than perhaps in years.

So there are a few of the many reasons for a return to good feelings about the Redskins after that whole offseason of Gibbs-retirement, Jim-Fassel-flirtation, head-coach-hire-by-default drama. For all that happened, the team is very similar to the one that ran the table at the end of the season and very nearly ran through Seattle in the closest 35-14 playoff game ever. Who knows what other pleasantries await us tonight?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Three Sentences Reveal Aversion to Optimism

The gladness brought on by the recent run of stellar play by the Nats can only be heightened by knowledge of the dead weight they’ve purged. We speak, of course, of Felipe Lopez, who earlier this week had this to offer as an excuse for his subpar performance in Washington:

"Like I said, the motivation - just being dead last, I guess. Like going out there knowing you're probably going to lose isn't motivating. That's tough. That's tough, for me."

Manny did his best to motivate, but on some the message is lost, especially on someone whose very being is apparently immune to any notion of optimistic thinking (0-3 for the Cardinals last night, by the way).

What of Felipe’s middle infield replacement? Doing just fine, and lifting the team with him.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

One Sentence Begets Much Optimism

How can one line in a small story about a relatively minor Caps' signing (that of Dave Steckel to a one-year deal) be cause for so much optimism and anticipation for next season? When the line reads "[Steckel] figures to enter the season as the fourth line pivot behind Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Michael Nylander." How many years during the 90s did we fans pine for such depth and wealth of talent at center (don't forget +28 Viktor Kozlov ready to step in the middle if needed)? Remember watching failed bids for the likes of Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, etc? Or how about forcing wings to play center, or signing a moody superstar's favorite center to placate him in the hopes of squeezing some production out of his $7 million/year contract?

Those years are gone. Ancient history. The depth and abilities we so longed for are there: the perfect combination of playmaking and defensive acumen. The one line said it all.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Feeling Good About a Non-Win

Sure they’re statistically no longer the Hottest Team in the Majors, but the Nats still have reason to feel good about last night’s non-win vs. Colorado. Sometimes-referred-to-as-ace John Lannan shook off the unpleasantness of his last start, a 5.2-inning, 8-run affair vs. Philadlphia, to post 7 solid innings, giving up a Tim-Redding-like two runs.

With the hitting alive again, it’s nice to see Lannan back in form to help bring the starting pitching around. With the statistical oddity of Lannan not receiving any run support, it kind of figures the bats would take a night off, but they’ll be back. In the meantime, Austin Kearns has crawled up into the .230s, healthy Ryan Zimmerman is creeping through the .260s, and Willie Harris and Lastings Milledge claw their way towards double-digits home runs. Hitting lives, a rising pitcher regains his form. Not a bad way to end a four game winning streak.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Hottest Team in the Majors

Despite a perhaps predictable injury to a hot, producing player, the Nationals today are tied for longest winning streak in MLB. Four games. Modest? Sure. But a better recent run than, say, the Mets, owners of a current four-game slide, after all that dalliance with the division lead brought about some brief optimism in New York. All that’s left is to wait for the "Fire Manuel" calls to begin.

Speaking of the Mets, here's a candidate for best-ever Yahoo! search that led to DC Optimist: “mets dumb jesus flores”. As in, Mets are dumb for allowing Flores to slip to the Nats via Rule 5 for nothing. Lost in all that early season swooning over Ryan Church’s march towards Cooperstown was the emergence of Flores as a legit starter over Mets castoff Paul Lo Duca. The crowing over how the Mets clearly robbed the Nats should subside now, with Lastings Milledge getting healthy and back to productivity and the free Flores gathering hits and RBIs nightly. Incidentally, we’re sure some day (perhaps as soon as Manuel’s job is officially declared to be in jeopardy) that “mets dumb manny acta” will also find its way to our referral records.

Anyway, four-game win streak. The Nats creeping up on not-last-place in the NL. Everything's going to be fine.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Corner-Turning Weekend, Part I

Nice little weekend, though the week ended badly enough, with Ryan Zimmerman taking another injury and the Post gracefully declaring the season had plunged to “unrecoverable depths”. There was also that little bit earlier in the day about a couple of maligned Nats named Lo Duca and Lopez finally being given the boot. Seemed the team was completely imploding, ready to sit down, lose their 100+ games and mail it in for the next couple of months. Not quite.

New blood in the form of Emilio Bonifacio and Alberto Gonzalez, plus sort-of new blood in the form of an (at least temporarily) healthy Elijah Dukes gave the team basically a new image overnight (Nationals Journal even quoted one anonymous player saying it was like being dealt to a different team the atmosphere was so rejuvenated). The now-youngest team in the Majors (finally, numerically certifiable evidence of a true youth movement) responded with an authoritative sweep of the Reds. Newbee Gonzalez chipped in mostly with his bat, Bonifacio mostly with his ridiculous glove.

Before poo-pooing such a sweep with rancid “evidence” that the Reds stink, so the Nats “should” be able to beat them (didn’t this exact sort of thing set Manny off last year?), consider that the Nats sweeping anyone has been a rare occurrence, and that a team so laden with newcomers and injury-fillers, one so derided as a “non-Major-league team”, one so lampooned by hacks, should be allowed celebration at this accomplishment, regardless of the opponent. So let’s celebrate. Let’s also look at some encouraging numbers helped along by a three-game winning streak.

The Nats now need only to win 23 of their last 51 games to avoid triple-digit loss indignity. It might seem a small feat, but given the well-publicized long-term injuries to all nine opening day starters We do include C. Guzman in that category, since he’s not yet fully back despite being “day to day” from the beginning of his injury stint. Let’s just be glad he hasn’t taken the 2008 Nats’ progression from day-to-day to 15-day to out-for-season. Staying below 100 might also just be enough to keep the hungry dog critics and expert analysts at bay. You know, the ones still burned from last year’s lack of 121 losses and hoping for something a little closer to that from this year’s Nats to redeem their lack of foresight. This weekend must have been crushing for such embracers of the negative.

So, two corners turned for the Nats this weekend. First, the long-term corner with the true move to youth and the release of never-panned-out Lopez and Lo Duca. This also means an extra $10 million for the team next year. Perhaps it’s a foreshadowing of some sort of Ted-Leonsis-like release of team money this coming offseason. Second, we see a shorter-term turn within this single season. With a younger, more enthusiastic lineup to compliment the young, enthusiastic manager, days of nine-game non-winning streaks could be behind us. The landmark of .500 may be but a dream this year, but something approaching last season’s late summer/early fall respectability can yet be achieved.

More later on the Redskins and their fine weekend.