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AZ 4, Nationals 3 - Coasting to the Coast

Record: 2-2. Change on last season: 0

Quote of the day: ""It’s beyond making an All-Star game. It’s beyond winning a Gold Glove. It is beyond 500 homers. It’s a chance to wear the number of the first black who ever got to do it in a white man’s game at that time. I just want to steal home."" -- Orlando Hudson, on getting to wear #42 on April 15th.

Not quite as easy as I hoped, that. Nor was that quite as easy as it looked like it was going to be in the middle of the first inning, after we'd scored three times. That was despite only mustering a pair of singles, and largely thanks to the Nats' Bergman issuing three free passes, including one with the bases loaded. After he left the game, however, their bullpen showed exactly why they're generally regarded as the team's strongest component: in the remaining 5.1 innings, we mustered one single and one walk. Washington may be the only team where you want the opposing starter to go seven or eight innings.

The Nationals really seem like a team you can get on top of early - thus far, they've been outscored 8-0 in the first inning of their four games, and their rotation ERA is north of eleven at the moment. Thus it was today: Chris Young had a two-run single with the bases loaded in the first, and when Orlando Hudson hit his first home of the season to give us a 4-0 lead, this one looked like it could become a laugher. Not so: our offense shut up shop and went home, while the Nats chipped away at the lead, with single tallies in the fourth, fifth and seventh. While Washington outhit Arizona severely - 11 to 6 - they were remarkably unclutch: 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, driving in their runs with two groundouts and a solo homer.

Edgar Gonzalez gave us a solid start, though for the third time in four games, our starter didn't get into the sixth inning. EdGon was great early on, and fanned seven hitters, allowing seven hits and walking two. But two earned runs over five frames will do very nicely. Medders got through the sixth, but got into trouble in the seventh, forcing Melvin to go to Slaten for the final two outs. Lyon pitched a scoreless eighth, in what was by that point a one-run game, so I think he deserves credit for a save situation, almost as much as anyone pitching the ninth inning.

And praise where it's due: Jose Valverde was dominating in that exact spot. Not so much with sheer velocity - he's not getting up much beyond 92 mph - but he was hitting his spots, and retired the side in order to protect the slimmest of leads. Facing Dmitri Young, for example, who could easily have smacked the tying run out of there, he showed him a first-pitch splitter down in the zone. Then Papa Grande went with fastballs away, away, each time hitting Snyder's glove exactly where it was located, and eventually forced Young to ground out. It was a well-thought out, well-executed performance that does much to restore my confidence in him. If he'd blown this one, it could have been disastrous for his psyche.

The second out was perhaps the key, as a pop-fly swirled around mercilessly in the Washington night [the box-score lists the wind as 20 mph, out to right, and with that chill factor, the temperature at one point reached 26 degrees] behind Hudson. Usually, he vacuums up this kind of thing without any bother - it's his meat and drink - but he staggered around underneath this one like a drunken sherriff, before sprawling full-length to make the grab. Not sure who was more relieved: him or Valverde, but it might have been an entirely game if that ball had hit the dirt.

A comeback loss would, however, be par for the course. You may remember, painfully, last season's trip to Washington, where, in less than 48 hours, we blew a trio of eighth innings leads: 6-1, 3-1 and 3-1. Indeed, the last time we beat the Nationals away from Phoenix, they weren't. Er, the Nationals, that is: you have to go back, all the way to April 23, 2003, in Montreal, when Elmer Dessens defeated Les Expos - and some guy called Livan Hernandez. Since then, we'd lost ten straight on the road against the Montington Exponals, so it's nice to have that streak ended.

Scary moment in the first inning, when Scott Hairston fouled a pitch off his knee, and was rapidly removed from the game. Memories of the unfortunate accident that derailed his 2006 season, just when it was getting started, undoubtedly came to mind, but it doesn't look to be too bad. X-rays were negative, though I'm sure he'll have a nice shiner. Hairston currently expects to play in tomorrow's game, though I'm sure that'll depend on how it reacts overnight. Should he need to be replaced in the lineup, it'll likely be Callaspo in left: the time when we had a "glut" of outfielders suddenly seems a very long time ago.

Gameday Graph

[Click graph to enlarge, in new window]

If you haven't seen the above before, a little explanation is necessary. Analysis has been done which works out the percentage chance of each team winning, based on the score and situation. For example, a 1-0 lead in the first inning is less likely a win than a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth. These numbers can be used to chart the ebb and flow of a game as it progresses: all games start at a 50/50 chance for each team, as the score is 0-0. [It doesn't take home-field advantage into account] And they all end either at 100% or 0% - the games are seen from the home team's point of view.

So, looking at yesterday's game, we see that Young's first-inning single had the biggest impact on the final result, giving us a 75% chance of victory. From there, things wobbled about a bit, but didn't change much. The Nationals did pull closer, but were running out of innings, and as a result, their chances remained more or less the same, as deep as the Lopez double in the eighth inning. In the ninth, of course, Valverde closed it out, and snuffed out their hopes.

Couple of other bits and pieces: are now including up-to-date statistics for the current season, rather than doing a bulk update at the end of the year. Generally, they're not updated until the morning after, round about 8am, but it's still a valuable tool. And I got a final set of predictons, from reader Howard, which make for interesting reading (he predicts Jackson to have the best OPS on the team). He's also given the expected final standings and award winners - those have all been zipped up and can be located here. Thanks to him for that.

Looks like Quentin could be out until about the third week in the season. According to Josh Byrnes, he’ll need 5-7 days on a rehab assignment before he’s ready to come back to the majors: Our new Double-A affiliate in Mobile is currently slated as the destination. ""It’s a compounding effect. We want to be patient. The more games he misses, the more games he needs," said Byrnes. As our outfielders drop like flies, this is obviously disappointing, but I’d rather wait for him to be fully healthy, than rush him back and risk further damage. We’re coping so far, though Eric B. in RF is clearly not the answer.